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    A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the Ain Tarma neighbourhood of Damascus, Syria. (File)

    'Intelligence Matter' or Matter of Intelligence? US Can't Prove Syrian WMD Claim

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    US State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert has said that the US will not provide evidence to back up its claim that the Syrian government was preparing to launch a chemical attack, since it was an "intelligence matter." Russian Middle East expert Yuri Zinin says that the US motivation has never been about preventing the use of chemical weapons.

    Earlier this week, CNN reported that US warships and military aircraft were had taken up positions to carry out attacks against Syria if ordered to do so by President Trump, following White House claims that Damascus was preparing to carry out a chemical weapons attack.

    Warning that the Syrian government would "pay a heavy price" if it did end up using chemical weapons, the White House pointedly refused to release any evidence to support its claims to the press, "because that would be considered an intelligence matter."

    On Wednesday, Defense Secretary James Mattis said that the US believed that Syria had "backed down" from its plans.

    But Washington's step backward didn't ease the tension in Moscow and Damascus. On Thursday, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Moscow had intelligence on preparations for staged provocations in Syria, going so far as to name two towns in northwest Idlib province as the locations where such provocations could be carried out.

    Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that the US 'warning' to Damascus might galvanize extremists in Syria to organize such a provocation to get the US to attack the Syrian Army. Accordingly, in Moscow's eyes, the latest Syria-related diplomatic crisis seems far from over.

    Ever since the alleged chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, Idlib province, which the US blamed on Damascus, the Syrian government has reiterated over and over again that it destroyed its chemical weapons arsenal in 2014, under a deal brokered with Moscow's help and approved by the US.

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    Speaking to Radio Sputnik, Middle East specialist Yuri Zinin, who works as a senior researcher at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, explained that putting the whole chemical weapons narrative to one side, what really concerns Washington is the success the Syrian government has had in liberating territory from Daesh and other Islamist extremist groups.

    Washington, the observer noted, has been growing increasingly exasperated by the Syrian Army's military victories, and see the 'chemical weapons' narrative as perhaps the last remaining opportunity to somehow stem the tide. According to Zinin, the US is now desperately looking for ways to impose its own scenario in Syria before Daesh is completely wiped out.

    After all, the expert recalled that "in Iraq too, the government army is slowly closing in on the terrorists, and coming up to the Syrian border. This is a big accomplishment, because when both countries regain control over their common border, they will strike a final blow to Daesh, and its ability to maneuver and transfer forces from country to country."

    If Daesh is destroyed, Damascus' position would be strengthened considerably, while the US's room for maneuver would effectively shrink to its lowest point since the beginning of the Syrian conflict.

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    allegations, claims, chemical weapons, United States, Syria
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