Syria blasts NATO, chemical weapons "chorus"

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad gives a press conference in Caracas, Venezuela, in front of a portrait of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Nov. 27, 2012. Getty

BEIRUT Syria sharply criticized NATO's move to deploy Patriot missiles along its border with Turkey, calling the decision "provocative," as the West took a major step toward a possible military role in the civil war.

After getting Cabinet approval, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters that two German Patriot batteries with a total of 400 soldiers would be sent to the border area under NATO command for one year, although the deployment could be shortened.

The announcement also appeared to be a message to Assad's regime at a time when Washington and other governments fear Syria may be readying its chemical weapons stockpiles for possible use as fighting with the rebels in the capital, Damascus, and other areas intensifies.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterated concerns Wednesday that "an increasingly desperate Assad regime might turn to chemical weapons" or lose control of them to militant groups.

Clinton was to meet Thursday in Dublin with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in unscheduled talks highlighting the urgency of the diplomatic arm wrestling between the two nations on the Syrian crisis.

U.S. officials tell CBS News correspondent Margaret Brennan the meeting may be a sign that Russia is now willing to consider supporting further U.N. action against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime -- to send a message that he must stop his deadly assault on rebel forces and areas under their control. Opposition officials say the 21-month assault has left more than 40,000 people dead.

CBS News correspondent David Martin reported Monday that Assad's regime had begun preparing its chemical weapons for use. Martin said orders had been issued in Syria to bring together chemical ingredients that are normally stored separately for safety, but that form the deadly nerve agent sarin when they are combined.

This type of activity had not been detected before and one of the U.S. officials said it bears further scrutiny.

Syria's deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad insisted the deployment of the missile defense system would not affect the determination of President Bashar Assad's government to crush the "terrorists," using the regime's term for rebels fighting to topple the longtime leader.

Mekdad denounced the NATO move and the chemical weapons "chorus" as part of a conspiracy that is possibly laying out the foundations for a military intervention in Syria.

Syria has been careful not to confirm it has chemical weapons while insisting it would never use such weapons against its own people.

"I repeat for the hundredth time that even if such weapons exist in Syria, they will not be used against the Syrian people," Mekdad said in an interview with Lebanon's Al-Manar TV station. "We cannot possibly commit suicide, Syria is a responsible country."

Mekdad added that the Syrian government is worried the U.S. or some European countries could provide "terrorist" organizations in Syria with chemical weapons to use, then blame the government.

Asked about NATO's approval to send Patriot missiles to Turkey, Mekdad said "there is absolutely no justification for that because Syria will not attack the friendly people of Turkey."

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