Russia says to push for Mideast free of mass-destruction weapons

(Reuters) – Russia wants to revive plans for a conference on ridding the Middle East of weapons of mass destruction now that Syria has pledged to abandon its chemical arms, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in comments published on Monday.

Such a move could put Moscow at odds with Washington which announced the conference would be delayed last year. Analysts said it feared the event would be used to criticize its ally Israel, believed to be the region’s only nuclear-armed state.

Russia has been pushing to extend its influence in the Middle East. It initiated a U.N. deal to get Syria to abandon its chemical arms after Washington threatened military strikes to punish Damascus for a sarin gas attack on rebel areas.

“We will seek to have this conference take place,” Lavrov said in an interview with the Russian daily Kommersant.

Lavrov said Syria’s agreement to destroy its chemical weapons by next June should trigger a broader effort.

“In the current situation, it is particularly important to make the … non-possession of weapons of mass destruction universal in this explosive region,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said Syria’s government always viewed its long-undeclared chemical arsenal as a counterweight to the nuclear arms Israel is believed to possess. Israel has never acknowledged having atomic weapons.
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