Syria Chemical Mission May Suffer Fallout From Ukraine Crisis

A Syrian rebel fighter fires a mortar towards pro-regime forces in a clash on the outskirts of Aleppo last week. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday said it remained unclear how an international standoff over Ukraine might affect efforts to remove chemical arms from Syria.
A Syrian rebel fighter fires a mortar towards pro-regime forces in a clash on the outskirts of Aleppo last week. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday said it remained unclear how an international standoff over Ukraine might affect efforts to remove chemical arms from Syria. (Mohammed al-Khatieb/AFP/Getty Images)

Washington's top diplomat said it is unclear how tensions over Ukraine could affect the removal of chemical arms from Syria, Agence France-Presse reports.

Russia played a crucial role in persuading Syrian President Bashar Assad's government to cut 38 days from a revised timeline for relinquishing its remaining chemical-warfare materials, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday.

"We believe that could now be reduced by another 20 to 25 days, and we'd like to see that done," he told lawmakers at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing.

However, "whether or not we can succeed in getting that done will depend to some degree on the outcome of events ... with respect to Ukraine," Kerry said. "My hope is ... that events in Ukraine will not interfere."

Tensions have soared between Moscow and Western capitals following the Russian military occupation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula at the start of this month. The sides have exchanged threats of political and economic reprisals as Crimean residents prepared for a Sunday vote on whether to pull away from Ukraine's new, pro-Western interim government.

On Friday, though, a Russian Foreign Ministry insider suggested the Syrian disarmament operation would move forward as planned, Reuters reported.

"If there are no difficulties then in a month, on April 13, the removal will be practically finished," Mikhail Ulyanov, head of the security and disarmament department, said in a report by the state-run RIA Novosti news agency.

Kerry suggested that "Russia maintains a significant interest in not having [Syria's] chemical weapons loose, not having them fall into the hands of terrorists."

Assad's government -- a close partner of Moscow -- agreed to give up the chemicals after an August sarin-gas attack on an opposition-held area prompted international military threats. Observers have questioned the Syrian regime's ability to fully protect the materials from seizure by other groups fighting in Syria's civil war, which is now entering its fourth year.

March 14, 2014
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Washington's top diplomat said it is unclear how tensions over Ukraine could affect the removal of chemical arms from Syria, Agence France-Presse reports.