MOSCOW – President Barack Obama's warning over chemical weapons in Syria indicates the West is looking for a pretext for military intervention, a senior Syrian government official said Tuesday following talks in Moscow.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, meanwhile, warned the West against circumventing the U.N. Security Council to take action in Syria.
Obama said Monday the U.S would reconsider its opposition to military involvement in Syria if President Bashar Assad's regime deployed or used chemical or biological weapons. The U.S. president called a turn toward such weapons of mass destruction a "red line" for America.
Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil described Obama's statements as "propagandistic threats" connected with the U.S. presidential election. However, he also said they indicate that "the West is looking for a pretext to intervene militarily."
Jamil drew a comparison with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which the U.S. justified by claiming, falsely as it turned out, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
"Such an intervention is impossible," Jamil told journalists in comments translated into Russian. "Those who are contemplating this evidently want to see the crisis expand beyond Syria's borders." The Syrian civil war, which began with a popular uprising in March 2011, already is spilling over into neighboring Lebanon.
The conflict in Syria already has dragged on for 1 1/2 years and killed some 20,000 people, according to activists. It is widely thought that Syria possesses extensive chemical and biological weapon stockpiles, and it has threatened to use them if the country comes under foreign attack.
Russia, which along with China has steadfastly backed Syria and blocked U.N. sanctions on Assad's regime, earlier warned Syria against using such weapons.
Jamil said the government would be willing to discuss Assad's resignation but only after the opposition agreed to join in negotiating a peaceful settlement.
"As for his resignation, making his resignation a condition for dialogue effectively makes holding such a dialogue impossible," Jamil said. "During the negotiating process any issues can be discussed, and we are ready to discuss even this issue."
Lavrov, speaking earlier Tuesday after meeting with his visiting Chinese counterpart, said Moscow and Beijing agreed on "the need to strictly adhere to the norms of international law and not to violate the principles inscribed in the U.N. charter."
Lavrov met later with Jamil and Syrian National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haydar, who he said confirmed the Syrian government's commitment to a political transition under a U.N.-brokered peace plan.