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.
Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil warned against any such intervention.
"Those who are contemplating this evidently want to see the crisis expand beyond Syria's borders," he told journalists in comments translated into Russian. The Syrian civil war, which began with a popular uprising in March 2011, already is spilling over into neighboring Lebanon.
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.
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."
"We must say that such intervention is impossible," he added.
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."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov repeated Moscow's insistence that Syrians should decide their own fate without interference from outside.
Lavrov, who met with Jamil and Syrian National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haydar, said the ministers confirmed the Syrian government's commitment to a political transition under a U.N.-brokered peace plan.