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Beijing - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad criticised the United States for threatening to attack Syria over its chemical weapons programme, saying it was finding “excuses for war”, China's state television said on Monday.
US President Barack Obama has warned that he is prepared to attack Syria, even without a UN mandate, if Assad reneges on a US-Russia deal to put Syria's chemical arms stockpiles under international control.
Russia and the United States brokered the deal to avert US military strikes that Washington said would punish Assad for a poison gas attack last month.
“If the US wants to find excuses for war, it will find them as it has never stopped war,” Assad said in an interview with China's state television, CCTV, in the Syrian capital.
“As long as the US intends to continue exerting its hegemony over other countries, we will all keep high alert,” Assad said, according to a transcript of his translated remarks from CCTV.
“With or without the Syrian crisis, we will always be on alert against some Western countries' intention to override the UN Charter and the international laws,” he said.
Russia and China have both vetoed previous Western efforts to impose UN penalties on Assad.
But China has also been keen to show it is not taking sides and has urged the Syrian government to talk to the opposition and take steps to meet demands for political change. It has said a transitional government should be formed.
China has also called for a full and impartial investigation by UN chemical weapons inspectors into the August 21 attack, and has warned against pre-judging the results.
Assad said China and Russia would “ensure any excuse for military action against Syria will not stand”.
Earlier, an article on the CCTV website quoted Assad as saying: “I am not concerned. Since its independence, Syria has been committed to all the treaties it has signed. We will honour everything that we have agreed to do.
“And more importantly, I want to say, by submitting the draft to the UN Security Council, or by urging the US and Russia to agree on a deal, the US, France, and Britain are just trying to make themselves winners in a war against a Syria which is their imaginary enemy.”
The United States has blamed Assad's forces for the August 21 chemical attack, which it said killed more than 1 400 people.
Assad blamed rebels battling to overthrow him, saying it made no sense for his forces to use chemical weapons when they were gaining the upper hand and while UN chemical inspectors were staying in central Damascus.
“We also have confessions made by the terrorists who transported the materials from the neighbouring countries,” he said In the interview.
Under the US-Russian deal, Assad must account for his chemical weapons stockpiles within a week and see them destroyed by the middle of next year.
Envoys from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - met last Thursday for a third day to discuss a draft resolution Western powers hope will make the deal legally binding.
Russia, a key ally of Assad, is unhappy with the draft's references to possible punitive measures against Syria under Article 7 of the UN charter, which talks about UN authorisation for sanctions and military force.
Assad said gunmen could hinder the access of inspectors to sites where the weapons were stored and made.
“We know that these terrorists are obeying the orders of other countries and these countries do drive these terrorists to commit acts that could get the Syrian government blamed for hindering this agreement,” he said.
Asked whether Syria had a lot of chemical weapons, Assad said: “Syria has been manufacturing chemical weapons for decades so it's normal for there to be large quantities in the country.
“We are a nation at war, we've got territories that have been occupied for more than 40 years, but in any case, the Syrian army is trained to fight using conventional weapons.”
He said the chemical weapons were stored “under special conditions” to prevent anyone tampering with them.
“So there is nothing to worry about. The chemical weapons in Syria are in a safe place that is secure and under the control of the Syrian army.”
Separately, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that China was willing to send experts to help in the Syrian chemical weapons destruction process, and reiterated that a political solution was the only way to solve the crisis in Syria.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said on Saturday Syria had handed over information about its chemical weapons arsenal, meeting the first deadline of the disarmament operation. - Reuters