By Steve Gutterman
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday global powers were “on the right track” with a plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons and could avert military intervention in the conflict if they worked together.
Agreement on the plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons was reached after U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress to approve air strikes to punish Syria’s government over an August 21 gas attack the United States says killed more than 1,400 people.
“There is every reason to believe we are on the right track,” Putin told an investment conference.
He said the chemical weapons plan, which has rekindled an effort to convene an international conference to seek a solution to the conflict, could not have been put in place without support from Obama and the leaders of many countries.
“I believe that if we continue to act in such a coordinated way, it will not be necessary to use force and increase the number of people wounded and killed in the long-suffering land of Syria,” said Putin.
Russia has been Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s strongest backer during the civil war, blocking a number of Western initiatives in the U.N. Security Council and blaming the August 21 gas attack on rebel forces.
Russia has emphasized that rebels fighting Assad must also abide by the chemical weapons agreement and made clear it would demand proof of government responsibility for any future attack before approving punishment in the Security Council.
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia had seen reports and heard from various sources that some Middle East nations had developed close contacts with the al Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front and other militant groups, Interfax news agency reported.
Lavrov said the reports, which he did not describe in detail, indicate that “these radicals already have some components of chemical weapons” that were either found in Syria or brought in from abroad, Interfax reported.