“I am not 100% sure that the Syrian cabinet will comply with the US-Russian chemical weapons deal, but I think there is hope,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday.
“The latest developments suggest that Syria is willing to give up all chemical weapons,” he was quoted by Russian news agency Interfax as saying.
“I just want to remind [everyone] that Syria’s chemical weapons cache was built up in response to Israel’s nuclear capabilities,” said Putin, adding that “Israel has technological superiority and doesn’t need nuclear weapons.”
Putin, speaking at the annual Valdai discussion forum with political scientists, pundits and journalists, also echoed remarks made Wednesday by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about the Syrian rebels’ use of “provocations” in reference to the August 21 chemical attack in a Damascus suburb which Russia insists was perpetrated by the opposition.
Putin said Russia had strong grounds to believe that Syrian rebels were responsible for the attack.
“We have every reason to believe that it was a provocation, a sly and ingenious one,” he said, adding that its perpetrators have relied on “primitive” technology, using old Soviet-made ammunition no longer used by the Syrian army.
Lavrov said Wednesday that Russia would present proof of the rebels’ responsibility for the attack to the UN Security Council.
The US, Britain, France and others believe that the recently released report by UN inspectors has proven the attack was conducted by the Syrian military.
Russian officials have called the report biased, “one-sided” and “political.”
Earlier, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow was not currently considering destroying Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile on its territory.
“There needs to be a decision to do that,” Shoigu told Russian news agency Interfax. “We do have facilities for destroying weapons. There’s a great difference between being ready and being able to do something.”
Should Russia be assigned a role, “naturally [it] will participate,” he added.
Last Saturday, an agreement between Russia and the US called for an inventory of Syria’s chemical weapons to be submitted within a week, and for all components of the program to be out of the country or destroyed by mid-2014.
On Wednesday, Syrian President Bashar Assad said his government would abide by the agreement, adding that he had received estimates that destroying the stockpiles would cost $1 billion and would take roughly a year.
“We didn’t say that we are joining partially. … We joined fully. We sent the letter. We sent the document. And we are committed to the full requirement of this agreement,” Assad said during an interview with Fox News.
He said Syria was ready to talk to experts about the technical aspects of what he said would be a complicated task. He said Syria was ready to provide a list of weapons and provide experts access to the sites.
“We can do it tomorrow,” he said.
“It’s not about will,” Assad added. “It’s about technique.”
Germany said it’s giving 2 million euros ($2.7 million) to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to help it oversee the destruction of Syria’s arms stocks.
The Hague, Netherlands-based OPCW is expected to oversee that process.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle had offered technical or financial support to help destroy the weapons. On Thursday, he said Berlin has decided to contribute extra funding so that the chemical weapons watchdog can “deal with the Herculean task.”