November 14, 2013 / 4:51 PM / 6 years ago

NATO says could work with Russia on Syria chemical weapons

ISTANBUL, Nov 14 (Reuters) - NATO and Russia will be jointly briefed next week on efforts to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons and could work together to support the process if asked, alliance Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow said on Thursday.

The destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons was discussed at a meeting of NATO and Russian defence ministers in Brussels in October, the first such meeting in two years, raising the prospect of cooperation between the former Cold War foes.

Vershbow said Sigrid Kaag - head of the joint United Nations-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons - would fill in NATO and Russian officials next week.

“We are going to have a briefing to the NATO-Russia council ... to learn more about what they see as their requirements over the coming months,” Vershbow told Reuters on the sidelines of a NATO industry forum in Istanbul.

“At this point we don’t know whether they will be looking to NATO, or to NATO plus Russia, but allies have an open mind on that and we will know more after this informational briefing.”

Russia has been Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most powerful backer during the 2 1/2-year-old conflict, blocking U.N. Security Council resolutions meant to pressure him and saying his exit cannot be a precondition for peace talks.

But under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States, Assad agreed to destroy all Syria’s chemical weapons after Washington threatened to use force in response to a sarin gas attack that killed hundreds of people on Aug. 21.

Russia said this week it might donate $2 million to the OPCW, which won the Nobel Peace Prize last month, and is ready to offer expert help.

The United States has been the biggest contributor to the OPCW’s fund for the Syria mission, with Britain, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland also contributing.

Vershbow said NATO member nations had expertise in handling chemical, biological and nuclear threats and that the OPCW might also request assistance bilaterally.

Reporting by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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