China welcomes US, Russian deal to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons

Foreign Minister Wang Yi says United States, Russian agreement will enable tensions to ease

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 15 September, 2013, 12:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 September, 2013, 9:18am

China yesterday welcomed the deal between the United States and Russia to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons, which headed off the prospect of US strikes against Bashar al-Assad's regime.

It was the first official reaction by China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, to the deal reached in Geneva on Saturday after three days of talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Sergey Lavrov.

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"The Chinese side welcomes the framework agreement between the US and Russia. This agreement will enable tensions in Syria to be eased," Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at a meeting with his visiting French counterpart, Laurent Fabius.

Fabius, who arrived in Beijing yesterday, called the pact "a significant step forward".

"Only a few days ago, Syria was denying having chemical weapons and having used them. From now on we are in a new phase," he said. But while the plan was an important advance, it was "only a first stage".

The Geneva deal will form the basis of a UN resolution to be agreed within a week, he said, but its enforcement would have to be monitored "extremely closely". There would not be automatic sanctions if Syria did not comply.

The pact came after Washington led calls for military action in response to an August 21 chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus blamed by the US and others on the Syrian government. Damascus denies responsibility and blamed rebel forces.

Syrian minister of state for national reconciliation Ali Haidar yesterday called the deal "a victory for Syria".

"On one hand, it helps the Syrians emerge from the crisis and on the other it has allowed for averting war against Syria," Haidar said in an interview with Russian news agency Ria Novosti.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to issue a report on the chemical attack today.

The US-Russian agreement is intended to bring Syria's chemical weapons under international control by the middle of next year. Assad now has a week to hand over details of his regime's stockpile and Kerry said he must provide "immediate and unfettered" access to inspectors.