Russia warns US on Syria WMD excuse

Russia warns US on Syria WMD excuse

Russia warns US on Syria WMD excuse

Lavrov said the subject of using weapons of mass destruction should not be joked around with. AFP photo

Russia warned the West yesterday against using a search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Syria as an excuse for ousting President Bashar al-Assad in a fashion similar to the notorious hunt for deadly arms in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov questioned why U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was calling for a fact-finding mission in Syria by citing unproven claims of the regime’s use of chemical weapons in December 2012.

“This demand by the secretary-general with reference to a forgotten episode reminds us a great deal of attempts in Syria to introduce a practice analogous to that which existed in Iraq, when they were looking for weapons of mass destruction there,” Lavrov told reporters. The Barack Obama administration last week said Syria had probably used chemical arms in the conflict.

Russia strongly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 that toppled the Iraqi leader and has bitterly resisted foreign intervention in Syria, its close Middle East ally. Lavrov accused some governments and other players of using the threat of chemical warfare as a pretext for insisting on a foreign invasion of Syria.

“There are governments and outside players that believe that all means are appropriate to overthrow the Syrian regime,” said Lavrov, apparently referring to Western and anti-al-Assad Arab governments. “But the subject of using weapons of mass destruction is too serious, it should not be joked around with.”

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was sparked by a search for weapons of mass destruction purportedly held by Hussein’s regime that were never found.

Lavrov’s statement came a day after Republican senators pressed Obama to intervene in Syria’s civil war, saying America could attack Syrian air bases with missiles but should not send in ground troops.

Neutralizing the government forces’ air advantage over the rebels “could turn the tide of battle pretty quickly,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham told CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“One way you can stop the Syrian air force from flying is to bomb the Syrian air bases with cruise missiles,” the South Carolina senator said, adding that international action was needed to bring the conflict to a close but “You don’t need boots on the ground from the U.S. point of view.”

Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, said the United States should step up its support for Syrian rebels even if it turns out that al-Assad’s forces have not used poison gas in the conflict.

“We could use Patriot [missile] batteries and cruise missiles,” the Arizona lawmaker, an influential voice on military issues in the U.S. Senate, told NBC’s Meet The Press.

McCain said an “international force” should also be readied to go into Syria to secure stocks of chemical weapons. “There are a number of caches of these chemical weapons. They cannot fall into the hands of the jihadists,” he said. At the same time, McCain said it would be a mistake for American ground troops to enter Syria because that “would turn the people against us.”

Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.