China responded coolly yesterday to a French draft resolution at the UN Security Council to control Syria's chemical weapons, saying any decisions must be based on consensus and promote a peaceful resolution.
The draft demands that Syria make a complete declaration of its chemical weapons programme within 15 days and immediately open all related sites to UN inspectors or face possible punitive measures.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei would not say explicitly whether Beijing would back or oppose the proposal, but implied some reservations.
Hong repeated China's opposition to any unilateral military action on Syria, and said Russia's original proposal for Syria to give up its chemical weapons had created an "important opportunity" for a political resolution.
The plan for Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons, initiated by Russia, appeared to ease the crisis over looming Western strikes against Bashar al-Assad's regime. But it opened up new potential for impasse as Moscow rejected US and French demands for a binding UN resolution.
In a televised speech on Tuesday evening, Obama said diplomacy suddenly held "the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons" in Syria without use of force. But he declared the US would "be ready to respond" if other measures failed.
Obama said he had asked congressional leaders to postpone a vote to authorise the use of military force. He pledged any military action would not involve ground combat troops or a prolonged air campaign.
"It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments," Obama said.
His decision won the applause of Assad's close ally Iran, which has provided military and financial support to the Syrian regime since the revolt began in March 2011.
"We hope the new US attitude towards Syria will be a serious policy and not a media campaign," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said.
A French official said Russia objected not only to making the resolution militarily enforceable but also to blaming the August 21 attack on the Syrian government and demanding that those responsible be taken before an international criminal court.
Alexandre Orlov, Russia's ambassador to France, said: "It's sure there are chemical weapons on both sides. The important thing is to forbid them, put them under international control. Then we will see who uses them."
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said on Tuesday Syria would place its chemical weapons in the hands of representatives of Russia, other unspecified countries and the United Nations.
Reuters, Associated Press, Bloomberg