Lavrov blasts U.S. ‘blackmail’ over Syria resolution

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Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday accused Washington of blackmailing Moscow over a tough U.N. resolution against Syria, and said the West is blinded by a desire for regime change in the war-torn country.

“Our American partners are beginning to blackmail us,” threatening to stop work on implementing Syria’s chemical disarmament deal unless Russia supports a Security Council resolution allowing military intervention, Lavrov told state television.

In the sharply worded interview that exposed a growing rift on Syria policy as Damascus begins disclosing its chemical inventory under the deal, Russia’s top diplomat accused the West of trying to strong-arm a resolution in the Security Council that would make intervention possible.

“Right now Western partners are trying to unceremoniously push through a resolution under Chapter VII,” a move he said would “move the (chemical weapons) convention aside to advance individual, personal or geopolitical, state ambitions.”

Washington, Paris and London want a strongly worded resolution to ensure compliance, possibly under the U.N. Charter’s Chapter VII authorizing the use of force -- a move Lavrov said contradicts his agreement with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

“Our partners are now blinded by their ideological goal of regime change,” Lavrov added. “All they talk about is that (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad must leave.”

“They are only interested in proving their own superiority, not in the goal that is guiding us, to solve the problem of chemical weapons in Syria,” Lavrov said.

Syria has sent initial information about its chemical arsenal to the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), meeting a deadline set in line with a U.S.-Russian deal reached in Geneva on September 14.

The accord averted military strikes following an August 21 Sarin gas attack last month that killed hundreds of people and which Washington blames on the regime.

The plan calls for the arsenal to be destroyed by mid-2014 amid hopes that it could pave the way for peace talks to end the 30-month-long Syrian conflict that has claimed more than 110,000 lives.

Lavrov said that Russia would be willing to send troops to Syria as part of an international presence to secure the work of experts on chemical weapons sites.

“We are ready to allocate our servicemen, military police, to participate in such efforts,” he said, while questioning whether “large contingents are necessary... military observers would be enough.”

Lavrov said the OPCW is “about to make a decision” on Syria but the process is threatened by the “arrogant position of some Western partners”.

“They need Chapter VII, which presumes applying pressure on violators of international law, including sanctions and the possibility of using force,” he said.

Moscow has argued that the initial Security Council resolution stemming from the U.S.-Russia deal must simply “support” the chemical ban treaty, and if the ban is later violated in Syria, the Council would mull another resolution to address the violation, possibly applying tougher measures.

The Kremlin chief-of-staff Sergei Ivanov said Saturday that Russia’s current position on Syria could change in case the Assad regime is caught “cheating” on the disarmament process.

Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Thursday that Russia would be unlikely to send elite special forces to Syria, but would readily provide “specialists” for securing chemical stockpiles.

Lavrov on Sunday also contested Assad’s claim that the disarmament program requires $1 billion (740 million euros). “In Geneva we discussed the possible cost of this program. The figures were much less substantial,” he said.

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