KIEV, Ukraine, Aug. 24 (UPI) -- Russia's Foreign Ministry's said that it has Syrian guarantees that the Assad regime won't deploy chemical weapons.
Russian Foreign Ministry Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said Russia is working closely with the Syrian government to ensure its arsenal of chemical weapons remains under government control and won't fall into the hands of opposition fighters.
The issue has become increasingly prominent as foreign militaries have reportedly developed a contingency plan to provide assistance to Syria commandos to protect, and if necessary destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, Ukraine's Operativno news agency reported Thursday.
"We have guarantees from the Syrian government that it will not take any steps involving chemical weapons," Gatilov said. "And I want to reiterate that on this issue we will restrain it in all ways possible and work toward the goal of preventing such things from happening."
Gatilov said that "among the opposition (there) are terrorist elements," some aligned with al-Qaida.
"Of course, if all of a sudden, as a result of some actions, these weapons were to fall into the hands of terrorists who could take a totally irresponsible attitude toward them, this would be a very serious development," he said.
Syria began developing an indigenous chemical production capability in 1971, Israeli media said.
U.S. President Barack Obama recently stated that if Syria were to use chemical or biological weapons against rebel forces, this would be a "red line" for the United States.
"We have been very clear to the Assad regime but also to other players on the ground that a red line for us is (if) we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation," Obama said.
While Washington's concerns originally were that the former U.S.S.R. assisted Syria in developing its chemical and biological weapons capabilities, Syria had apparently obtained CW production technology from Western Europe, a 1990 study by the U.S. Army War College stated. The same document said Damascus was focused at the time on producing nerve agents
Accordingly, in June 1986, the Reagan administration banned the sale of nerve gas precursor chemicals sarin and mustard gas chemicals to Syria.
In 1971 under a presidential directive, Syria mobilized the Scientific Studies and Research Center, a "civilian" agency that two years later had begun to advocate the local development of CW weaponry for the Syrian army, and President Hafez Assad and the SSRC Director General Abdullah Watiq Shahid began to explore the option of developing chemical and biological warfare agents.
Western intelligence reports claim, Syria has subsequently been producing chemical weapons since the 1980s at facilities near Hama, Homs and al-Safira in the Aleppo region as well as in Damascus.