Russia offered assurances today that the Syrian government will show up at a new round of peace talks next week and will soon ship more toxic agents abroad for destruction under a deal to eliminate its chemical weapons arsenal.
The statements appeared intended to ease Western concerns about President Bashar al-Assad's commitment to a peace process that started last month, and to abandoning his chemical arsenal by mid-year under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States.
They came as Russia hosted the leader of the opposition coalition for the first time in the three-year-old conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people and spawned mutual recriminations between Russia and the West.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister "Gennady Gatilov" said that Syria plans to send a large shipment of toxic agents out of the country this month and can complete the removal process by March 1.
"Literally yesterday the Syrians announced that the removal of a large shipment of chemical substances is planned in February. They are ready to complete this process by March 1", state-run Russia news agency RIA quoted Gatilov as saying.
The operation of removing Syrian chemical weapons was far behind schedule and the deadline for sending all toxic agents out by this week will be missed.
Russia has said Western concerns are overblown and rejected accusations that the delays are deliberate, citing security and logistical issues.
Deputy Foreign Minister "Sergei Ryabkov" told Reuters on Monday that Russia remains confident the June 30 deadline for the elimination of Syria's chemical arsenal can be met.
Despite sharp differences over the conflict in Syria, Russia and the United States have joined forces to initiate peace talks that began last month in Geneva, and in September agreed the plan to eliminate its chemical arsenal . But the delays have sparked Western suspicion he wants to use the process as a lever in the Geneva talks, which are expected to resume on Monday though the government delegation has not committed to return.
Another deputy foreign minister" Mikhail Bogdanov" said toady that Russia is certain the government will attend.
"We have no doubt that the government delegation will take part in the second round of international talks in Geneva", Bogdanov told reporters before talks between Lavrov and Syrian opposition coalition leader "Ahmed al-Jarba".
Lavrov, who had long been seeking to bring Jarba to Moscow for talks, said Russia is working with all sides to aid the search for a solution and has been throughout the conflict.