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U.S. 'blackmailing' Russia on Syria, Lavrov says

By Matt Smith and Jill Dougherty, CNN
updated 1:50 PM EDT, Sun September 22, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Russia's foreign minister complains of U.S. pressure in U.N. talks
  • The Americans "are interested in proving their superiority," Lavrov says
  • U.S. wants "the strongest possible enforcement mechanism," official says

(CNN) -- Russia's top diplomat Sunday accused the United States of "blackmailing" Moscow into backing tough ground rules for Syria's chemical disarmament that would include the threat of force if Syria balks.

Syria has agreed to give up its arsenal of chemical weapons under international pressure and delivered an inventory of its poison gas stocks to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons over the weekend. But U.N. Security Council members are still trying to hammer out a resolution to outline the process, with Russia and Western powers at odds over the language.

In a Sunday interview on Russian television, Lavrov said Washington was threatening to sink the deal unless the resolution was drawn up under Chapter VII of the U.N. charter, which would authorize the use of force against Syria if it doesn't comply. As Syria's leading ally, Russia has opposed threats of military action.

"The U.S. partners are blackmailing us," Lavrov told the state-owned Channel One network. "They say they will quit the work at the OPCW in The Hague if Russia does not back the resolution based on Chapter VII at the U.N. Security Council."

Lavrov said the Americans "are interested in proving their superiority, and this is absolutely not the objective that drives us -- to solve the problem of chemical weapons in Syria."

Russia on Syria - No more 'nyet?'

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior U.S. State Department official responded that Washington isn't focused on words, "but actions."

"What our team at the U.N. is focused on right now is working through the details of a U.N. Security Council resolution with the strongest possible enforcement mechanism," the official said. "We're not going to litigate the details of a potential resolution in public."

Syria is 2 1/2 years into a civil war that has already left more than 100,000 dead, according to the United Nations. The United States and several of its allies, particularly France, began calling for military action against Syrian government forces after an August 21 attack outside Damascus that they said involved the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

U.N. weapons inspectors reported Monday that the nerve agent sarin had been used in the attack. Though the inspectors did not assign blame, Washington said details of the report pointed toward troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as the perpetrators.

Syria's government denies unleashing chemical weapons, and Russia said Syrian rebel forces may have been behind the August 21 attack.

Lavrov and his U.S. counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, laid out a framework for Syria's disarmament on September 14. Kerry and Lavrov spoke again Sunday to reiterate "the importance of working together on implementation of their agreement in Geneva," the senior State Department official said.

The plan calls for Syria to submit a comprehensive declaration of its chemical arms within one week. The OPCW said Saturday it had received the list from Syria. The plan then calls for international inspectors in position to secure that arsenal no later than November. Veteran weapons inspectors have said securing and destroying the Syrian stockpile could take huge numbers of people, including hundreds of inspectors and thousands of troops to provide security.

But Lavrov said Sunday that he didn't see the need for a large contingent of troops to back up the inspectors, and said Moscow was ready to stand guard "along the perimeter of areas where the experts will be working."

"We are ready to assign our servicemen and military police on this mission," he said. "I do not think there is a need for deployment of large contingents. I believe that military observers would be enough."

In Syria, meanwhile, a Russian Embassy official said two people were hurt when a mortar shell struck the Russian mission in Damascus, the state news agency RIA Novosti reported. RIA Novosti quoted the unnamed official as saying the strike was "apparently an accident."

CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali and Emma Lacey-Bordeaux contributed to this report.

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