Russia urges US to await Syria inspection findings

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Associated Press

Posted on August 25, 2013 at 12:33 PM

Updated Sunday, Aug 25 at 3:05 PM

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia urged the U.S. and its allies Sunday to await the findings of a U.N. inspection team expected to visit the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria and avoid military action.

Moscow also welcomed Syria's decision to allow international experts to examine the area in a Damascus suburb where at least 100 people died in the suspected attack. Syrian and U.N. officials are working to finalize the timing of the visit.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said all countries should wait for the results of the investigation and he encouraged other countries to "show prudence and avoid tragic mistakes" by rushing to a conclusion about the incident.

France has said evidence suggests Syrian forces used chemical weapons. President Barack Obama met with his national security team Saturday to assess the intelligence and consider a U.S. military response.

"Our American and European partners must understand what catastrophic consequences this kind of politics would have for the region, for the Arab and Islamic world as a whole," Lukashevich said, advising the U.S. and its allies against taking a "gamble" and using unilateral force in Syria.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle spoke with U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane about the agreement between the U.N. and Syria to allow experts to visit the site.

"This is an important agreement in a dramatic situation," Westerwelle said in a statement. "I welcome that the examination will begin without delay."

Before the announcement of the U.N.-Syria agreement, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande discussed the situation in a telephone call Sunday morning.

"They agreed that a chemical weapons attack against the Syrian people on the scale that was emerging demanded a firm response from the international community," a British government spokesman said on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to identify himself publicly. "This crime must not be swept under the carpet."

In Paris, Hollande said a "body of evidence" suggests that chemical weapons were used during attacks on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds, and that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime was most likely behind it. In a statement from his office, Hollande said "everything" leads France to believe the regime was behind the attack.

Francois Heisbourg, a special adviser at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research think tank, said that Syrian authorities "may have actually come to believe that there is a risk of some American strike" — and thus agreed to let the inspectors visit the suspected site.

"Whether they (Syrian authorities) came to that view on their own, or whether the Russians told them to become a bit more careful, I don't know, but it certainly looks as if they were actually starting to take the Americans seriously," he added. "I think the Syrians are (indeed) getting scared."

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Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Paris, Sylvia Hui in London and Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.

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