By ALBERT AJI and NATALIYA VASILYEVA Associated Press
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) - Evidence of alleged chemical
weapons use by the Syrian regime presented to Moscow by the U.S. and
its allies is "absolutely unconvincing," Russia's foreign minister said
Monday, as the Obama administration lobbied Congress to support a
punitive military strike against Syria.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said "there was
nothing specific there, no geographic coordinates, no names, no proof
that the tests were carried out by the professionals." He did not
describe the tests further.
President Barack Obama initially seemed poised to
launch military action without asking Congress, but over the weekend
changed his mind, a decision that delays any strike until after Congress
returns from summer recess next week.
At issue in the escalating diplomatic confrontation
between the U.S. and the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad are
alleged chemical weapons attacks on rebel-held areas in western and
eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital of Damascus on Aug. 21.
The U.S. said it has proof that the Assad regime is
behind attacks that Washington claims killed at least 1,429 people,
including more than 400 children. Syrian officials have denied the
allegations, blaming rebel fighters.
Lavrov brushed aside Western evidence of an alleged
Syrian regime role. Russia, along with China and Iran, has staunchly
backed Assad throughout the conflict.
"What our American, British and French partners
showed us in the past and have showed just recently is absolutely
unconvincing," Lavrov said at Russia's top diplomatic school. "And when
you ask for more detailed proof they say all of this is classified so we
cannot show this to you."
On Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said
the U.S. received new physical evidence in the form of blood and hair
samples that show sarin gas was used in the Aug. 21 attack. It was not
immediately clear whether that evidence had been shared with Russia.
U.N. chemical inspectors toured the stricken areas
last week, collecting biological and soil samples, but it is not clear
when the will present their findings.
Kerry said the case for an eventual military strike against Syria is getting stronger and that U.S. credibility is on the line.
However, the Obama administration so far failed to
bring together a broad international coalition in support of military
action, having so far only secured the support of France.
Britain's parliament narrowly voted against British
participation in a military strike last week, despite appeals by Prime
Minister David Cameron, and the Arab League has stopped short of
endorsing a Western strike against Syria.
In an emergency meeting on Sunday, the 22-state
League called on the United Nations and the international community to
take "deterrent" measures under international law to stop the Syrian
regime's crimes, but could not agree on whether to back U.S. military
Russia or China would likely veto any U.N. Security Council resolution sanctioning a Western strike against Syria.
China is "highly concerned" about possible
unilateral military action against Syria and believes the international
community must "avoid complicating the Syrian issue and dragging the
Middle East down into further disaster," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong
Lei said Monday.
In Washington, the Obama administration was lobbying to secure domestic support.
Obama was to meet Monday with former political
rival Sen. John McCain at the White House, hoping the foreign policy
hawk will help sell the idea of U.S. military intervention.
On Capitol Hill, senior administration officials
briefed lawmakers in private on Sunday to explain why the U.S. was
compelled to act against Assad. Further meetings were planned from
Monday to Wednesday.
The Syria conflict erupted in March 2011 as an
uprising against Assad that quickly transformed into a civil war. More
than 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the conflict.
In Damascus, the Syria representative of the U.N.
refugee agency, Tarik Kurdi, said that five million Syrians have been
displaced inside the country by the war.
In addition, nearly 2 million Syrians have fled to
neighboring countries, according to previous U.N. figures, bringing the
total number of uprooted Syrians to about 7 million, or nearly one-third
the country's estimated population of 23 million.
Kurdi said the need for aid is far greater than what the international community has provided so far.
"Whatever efforts we have exerted and whatever the
U.N. has provided in humanitarian aid, it is only a drop in the sea of
humanitarian needs in Syria," he told The Associated Press. The funding
gap "is very, very wide," he added.
Vasilyeva reported from Moscow.
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