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U.N. Takes Assad's Offer to Discuss Chem Strike Claims

The United Nations on Wednesday said it would dispatch two senior delegates to Damascus to discuss claims of chemical strikes carried out in Syria's civil war, Agence France-Presse reported.

In inviting the U.N. officials earlier this week, Syrian President Bashar Assad's envoy to the international organization did not suggest Damascus would allow international investigators into the country to examine all alleged chemical attacks, including some purportedly carried out by its own forces. The Syrian government has wanted a U.N. task force to limit its probe to a possible March 19 chemical strike near the city of Aleppo.

Investigation leader Ake Sellstrom and Angela Kane, U.N. high representative for disarmament affairs, intend to confer with Syrian officials on the "cooperation required for the proper, safe and efficient conduct of the U.N. mission to investigate" claims of chemical arms use in the country, said Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Nesirky did not indicate when talks might move forward. The U.N. secretary general conferred with Sellstrom on Wednesday, the spokesman noted.

Meanwhile, top Obama administration officials failed this week to sell a number of intelligence committee lawmakers on plans to supply Syrian rebels with small arms and ammunition, the Washington Post reported on Wednesday.

Opposition forces still have not started receiving the arms deliveries, the newspaper reported. When the Obama administration announced plans about a month ago to arm rebels in the country, it tied the decision to a finding that President Bashar Assad's government had carried out limited sarin nerve agent strikes in the conflict.

Some legislators have demanded greater U.S. involvement, while others hope to avoid any intervention. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) on Wednesday urged the Obama administration to also contemplate employing stand-off munitions to hit Syrian “airfields, airplanes and massed artillery,” al-Monitor reported. Others, like Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the House intelligence panel, urged caution about "being dragged into this conflict," according to the Post.

Russia, an ally of Assad, on Wednesday suggested that despite differences among U.S. lawmakers on the matter, Syrian opposition forces "are getting enough arms, including the most advanced ones,” ITAR-Tass reported.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said arming rebel fighters would discourage the opposition from taking part in proposed peace talks.

“We think the policy of stepping up arms supplies to opposition groups is a mistake,” he said. “It would be wrong to say that someone will benefit in this case and someone will lose. Everyone will lose."

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