Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov gives a press conference with his Syrian counterpart on September 9 in Moscow. Russia has vehemently opposed US-led strikes against the Assad regime, warning it could destabilize the whole Middle East, and President Vladimir Putin has vowed to help Syria if it was hit. (Photo credit: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images)
Doug Stanglin, USA TODAY
Russia has urged Syria to put its chemical weapons under international control, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters Monday.
"We have passed our offer to (Syrian Foreign Minister Walid) Al-Muallem and hope to receive [a] fast and positive answer," Sergey Lavrov said, according to RT.com, the Russian news agency, and the Associated Press.
Lavrov said Monday that if such a move would help avert a possible U.S. strike on Syria, Russia will start work "immediately" to persuade Syria to give up the control of its chemical arsenals.
Lavrov told reporters that Russia would urge Syria to concentrate its chemical weapons in certain areas under international oversight and then dismantle them.
The Obama administration has accused the Assad regime of an attack with chemical weapons near Damascus Aug. 21 that killed more than 1,400 people. President Obama has called on Congress to back a limited strike against Syria in response.
Lavrov, who spoke after talks Monday with al-Moallem, said that U.N. chemical weapons experts should complete their probe of the attack and present their findings to the U.N. Security Council.
"We have agreed to push for the soonest return of inspectors," Lavrov said.
Al-Moallem said his government was ready to host the U.N. team, and insisted that Syria is ready to use all channels to convince the Americans that it wasn't behind the attack.
He added that Syria was ready for "full cooperation with Russia to remove any pretext for aggression."
Syria is one of five countries -- including Angola, North Korea, Egypt, and South Sudan -- that have not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention drawn up in 1992.
The arms control treaty, signed by 189 country, bans the use and production of chemical weapons and calls for their destruction. Myanmar, also known as Burma, and Israel have signed the agreement, but have not ratified it.
Earlier in London, Secretary of State John Kerry was asked if Assad could do anything to avoid a military strike.
"Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week," he said. "Turn it over. All of it, without delay. And allow the full and total accounting for that. But he isn't about to do it."
Later, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki was asked of Kerry's remarks amounted to an ultimatum.'
"Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used," she said in a statement. "His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts can not be trusted to turn over chemical weapons otherwise he would have done so long ago. That's why the world faces this moment."
In an interview with Charlie Rose for CBS This Morning, Syrian President Bashar Assad denied using chemical weapons to attack his own people, but would neither confirm nor deny that his government kept such weapons. But, he said, if they existed, they were "in centralized control."
Syria has denied launching the Aug. 21 attack, insisting along with its ally Russia that the attack was launched by the rebels to drag the U.S. into war. Assad told CBS that his troops were attacked by chemical weapons and were not the aggressors.
"Our soldiers in another area were attacked chemically," he told Rose. "Our soldiers. They went to the hospital -- as casualties because of chemical weapons."
In his call for a negotiated settlement, Lavrov said that Russia will continue to promote a peaceful settlement and may try to convene a gathering of all Syrian opposition figures to join in negotiations. He added that a U.S. attack on Syria would deal a fatal blow to peace efforts.
Lavrov wouldn't say how Russia could respond to a possible U.S. attack on Syria, saying that "we wouldn't like to proceed from a negative scenario and would primarily take efforts to prevent a military intervention."
President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow would keep providing assistance to Syria in case of U.S. attack, but he and other Russian officials have made clear that Russia has no intention to engage in hostilities.
Assad, in his interview with CBS, said the U.S. would face "repercussions" in the event of an attack
Contributing: Associated Press