Russia is ready to help guard Syrian chemical weapons sites and destroy President Bashar al-Assad's stockpiles but will not ship any of the chemical arms to Russia for destruction, the country's deputy foreign minister has said.
Sergey Ryabkov made the remarks on Thursday while outlining some of the contributions his country is willing to make to implement a US-Russian deal that calls for the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal by the middle of next year.
"We will be ready to help in guarding those facilities where work is being carried out," the Interfax news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying at an arms fair in the Ural Mountains city of Nizhny Tagil.
Russia and the US are the only countries with industrial-scale capacity to handle mustard, VX, sarin or cyanide-armed munitions, but the import of chemical weapons is banned under US law.
Ryabkov said Russia would not import chemical weapons either, state-run RIA reported.
"There can be no doubt – we will not do this," RIA quoted him as saying.
Noting that the Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the export of chemical weapons, Ryabkov said: "We believe the destruction [of chemical weapons] on Syrian territory is the best option."
John Kerry, US secretary of state, and Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, approved the deal this month, under which inspections of chemical weapons sites in Syria are to be completed by November 30 and its entire arsenal destroyed by June 30.
Russia, China, the US, Britain and France – the permanent UN Security Council members – are trying to agree on a resolution that would support the deal for Syria to abandon its chemical weapons and be acceptable to both Russia and the West.
A team of UN chemical experts arrived in Syria on Wednesday on their second mission to the country, where they will examine some 14 alleged incidents involving the use of chemical weapons.
On their earlier mission, the team investigated an August 21 attack in the outskirts of Damascus that reportedly killed hundreds of people.
They were reported to have left their hotel in Damascus in a three-car convoy on Thursday, but their destination was not clear.
Also Thursday, a mortar shell struck the Iraqi consulate building in central Damascus, killing one person and wounding three, Syrian state media reported.
The 30-month conflict in Syria has left more than 100,000 people dead.