Russia and U.S. discuss Syria on sidelines of G8
Ben Rhodes, the deputy national security advisor for strategic communications, made the remarks on Monday during a press briefing in Northern Ireland. Rhodes responded to questions about Monday's bilateral meeting between President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Rhodes said that President Obama pushed progress of the U.N. chemical weapons investigation during the meeting.
"I think what the President's point was and what we want to do with the Russians is focus our efforts on empowering a U.N. investigation that can also get to the bottom of this," Rhodes said. "So in other words, the best way to clear up these questions is for the Assad regime to provide access to that U.N. investigation, which they have so far not done. So our message to the Russians, in addition to the briefing we provided them on our assessment, is that if you believe that these issues can be cleared up, then the Assad regime should allow for inspections of all of the alleged incidents, including the four incidents that we enumerated in our letter to (U.N. Secretary-General) Ban Ki-moon."
Despite Russian skepticism about the recent U.S. assessment that Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime used chemical weapons, Rhodes said the U.S. is highly confident in the evidence.
"The Russians, of course, have been more skeptical of the evidence that we put forward," Rhodes said. "We believe to be highly confident in that evidence, given the multifaceted nature of where we're making our conclusions from, which is physiological samples as well as intelligence reporting, open-source reporting, and individual reports."
Rhodes said the U.S. and Russia can find common ground in the shared desire that the chemical weapon stockpiles in Syria remain secure.
"I think, as a general matter, the Russian government shares an interest in making sure that chemical weapon stockpiles are secure within Syria," Rhodes said. "It's in nobody's interest that those weapons be used or transferred to terrorist organizations. So there, too, there's a basis for us to cooperate. We would like to see that lead to greater cooperation from the Assad regime in the ongoing international efforts to investigate these incidents."