China's Foreign Minister, Wang Yi - File Photo/AFP
BEIJING: China's foreign minister Wang Yi on Sunday 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.
“The Chinese side welcomes the general agreement between the US and Russia. This agreement will enable tensions in Syria to be eased,” Wang said at a meeting with his visiting French counterpart, Laurent Fabius.
Fabius, who arrived in Beijing on Sunday morning and was due to head back to Paris later the same day, called the pact “a significant step forward” and said “important decisions need to be taken on Syria”.
“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.
“We must move forward on the basis of this general agreement.”
The US-Russian agreement was reached in Geneva on Saturday, after three days of talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Sergei Lavrov.
It is intended to bring Syria's chemical weapons under international control by the middle of next year and leaves the door open to sanctions if Damascus fails to comply, but does not specify what they would be.
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 chemical weapons inspectors.
France has been one of Washington's closest allies in urging military action in response to an August 21 chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus blamed by Washington and others on the Syrian government.
The US says more than 1,400 people were killed, while the Syrian government denies responsibility and has blamed rebel forces for the incident.
More than 110,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the two-and-a-half year conflict, and rebel representatives have rejected the US-Russian deal, fearing it eliminates any chance of Western military intervention on their side.
China is a veto-wielding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and over the course of the conflict it has consistently joined with Russia, a fellow veto-holder, to block resolutions supported by Washington and its allies.
Beijing routinely says it opposes interference in other countries' internal affairs.
It regularly calls for a “political solution” to the Syrian crisis, and as Wang said Sunday: “This agreement opens the way to solve the Syrian question by peaceful means.”
The meeting between Wang and Fabius was part of a diplomatic flurry following the US-Russian deal.
Kerry was to fly to Israel Sunday to brief Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the agreement, and on Monday Fabius is due to host Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal in Paris.