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Syria

Russia: US claims on Syria chemical weapons 'unconvincing'

Russia has said US claims that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons are "unconvincing." The US has used the allegations to justify arming Syrian rebels. Germany has said it will not follow suit.

Russia expressed skepticism on Friday over intelligence provided by the United States on the alleged chemical weapons use.

President Vladimir Putin's senior foreign policy adviser, Yury Ushakov, said the claims recently presented to Russia "were unconvincing," warning against Washington's proposed military response.

He said he was concerned that arming the rebels would undermine efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict by diplomatic means. He warned, in particular, that the US response could jeopardize a G8 summit scheduled to take place in Northern Ireland next week where global leaders, including Putin, will discuss the conflict.

"Of course, if the Americans truly decide and in reality provide more large-scale assistance to rebels, assistance to the opposition, it won't make the preparation of the international conference easier," Ushakov said.

Russia warns against Iraq repeat

Ushakov suggested that the United States risked repeating mistakes made ahead of its Iraq invasion in 2003, when false intelligence was used to justify military action.

"I would not want to make any parallels; I would not want to believe that this data can be similar to the situation with the vial that [US] secretary of state Colin Powell brandished at the famous Security Council meeting," Ushakov said. He was referring to a Security Council meeting in 2003 in which Powell held up a vial he said could contain anthrax as he gave evidence of Iraq's alleged weapons program. The weapons themselves never materialized after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

The head of the Russian lower house of parliament's foreign affairs committee went further, however, echoing the Syrian government's assertion that the US had fabricated evidence.

"Information about Assad's use of chemical weapons has been fabricated in the same place as the lies about [Saddam] Hussein's weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, Alexei Pushkov said on Twitter.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry on Friday accused to US of relying on "fabricated information" in order to justify military interference.

Germany opts out

The US administration announced its decision to arm the rebels on Friday, saying it would move cautiously and in concert with its allies. It said the decision followed evidence that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had crossed a chemical weapons "red line" set by President Barack Obama.

"Our intelligence community assesses that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition multiple times in the last year," Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, told reporters. He added that the president "said that the use of chemical weapons would change his calculus, and it has."

Until Thursday, the United States had proved more cautious than Britain and France in its stance on Syria . France and Britain forced the European Union last month to lift an embargo that had blocked weapons deals for the rebels in Syria.

Germany had resisted the move; the German constitution forbids the government from providing weapons to combatants in a civil war. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert reiterated this stance on Friday.

"Germany is not allowed to deliver weapons to an area in civil war," Seibert told a news briefing in Berlin. Seibert said this position was not legally subject to change, even if further evidence was found to suggest al-Assad's deployment of chemical weapons.

ccp/msh (AFP, Reuters, dpa)