Russia Dismisses U.S. Claims On Syria

Russia's foreign minister dismisses US.. evidence of a Syrian government chemical weapons attack as "absolutely unconvincing." Moscow is launching a campaign to persuade U.S. lawmakers to oppose any military strike on Syria.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

We begin the hour with Syria, the cases for and against military action. Russia's top diplomat says his country is not convinced by claims that the Syrian government launched last month's deadly chemical weapons attack.

The U.S. ambassador provided Russia's foreign ministry with its evidence on Saturday. And while the U.S. says its reason for action, and France is also presenting a similar argument, Russia says the information isn't good enough. NPR's Corey Flintoff reports from Moscow.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Russia has been casting doubt on the alleged chemical weapons attack since the incident was reported on August 21st. Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters that it didn't make sense that the Syrian government would launch such an attack when the Syrian military has been steadily gaining ground in a conventional fight against the rebels.

He was particularly scornful of the idea that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would use chemical weapons when United Nations inspectors were visiting Damascus. Putin called the incident a provocation by those who want to draw the United States into the conflict.

On Saturday, American Ambassador Michael McFaul visited the foreign ministry in Moscow. He was reported to be providing information to the Russians that would back up President Obama's decision to call for military action. Today, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the information was absolutely unconvincing.

SERGEY LAVROV: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Lavrov complained that there was nothing specific in the Americans' findings. His comments indicated that the U.S. had provided some sort of test data, but he said there were no geographic coordinates, no names and no proof that the tests were carried out by professionals.

LAVROV: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: Speaking at Russia's top diplomatic school, Lavrov said the Americans had declined to give more detailed proof on the grounds that the evidence was classified. In a related development, the Russian news agency Interfax says Russian lawmakers have proposed sending a delegation to meet with members of Congress for discussions on Syria.

The speaker of the upper house of parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, said the delegation would urge Congress not to approve military strikes on Syria. She noted that U.S. polls have shown limited public support for a punitive attack and said it may be possible to persuade Congress members to take what she called a balanced approach to the issue. The report said that the plan has the support of President Putin.

Russia has been Syria's strongest ally and weapons provider. Together with China, Russia has blocked three U.N. resolutions that could have paved the way for the ouster of President Assad. Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Moscow.

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