The Syrian government said Monday that it backed a Russian proposal calling for Damascus to hand over its arsenal of chemical weapons to international authorities in a bid to avoid a U.S. attack.
“We, for the sake of protecting our people and children and country and due to our trust in the Russian efforts, will cooperate fully with Russia in this regard so as to take away the excuses of this aggression,” Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said in a statement.
The White House did not immediately respond to Syria’s statement Monday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called on Mr Assad to put the arms under international control so they can be destroyed to avoid a conflict that he warns would cause an “outburst of terrorism” and spark a new wave of refugees.
He said he had already conveyed the message to his Syrian counterpart, Walid al Moualem, at talks in Moscow and expected “a quick and, I hope, a positive answer.”
Earlier, President Assad warned America “to expect everything” if it attacks in retaliation for his alleged use of chemical weapons that killed more than 1,400 civilians.
Speaking in an interview to US television network CBS, Mr Assad denied he was behind the chemical atrocity on August 21 and said the US had provided “not a single shred of evidence” that his forces were involved.
When pressed by CBS correspondent Charlie Rose about what would happen if the US attacked Syria, he replied “every action”.
Asked if that could include the use of more chemical weapons, he said: “That depends. If the rebels or the terrorists in this region or any other group have it, it could happen. I don’t know. I’m not a fortune teller to tell you what’s going to happen…”
America has urged President Assad to hand over his chemical weapons, saying it was the only way to stop a military strike against his forces.
US Secretary of State John Kerry made the demand after flying into London for talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague in the latest stage of his diplomatic tour to garner support for attacking Mr Assad’s regime.
He told a news conference at the Foreign Office that the US “was not going to war” with troops on the ground, but was instead planning a “very limited, very targeted, very short-term” strike.
But, conversely, he added: “Let me be clear, the United States, President Obama, myself, others, are in full agreement that the end of the conflict in Syria requires a political solution. There is no military solution, we have no illusions about that.”
He again set out the evidence America claims it has that the Syrian government was behind the Damascus gas attack, saying the “risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting”.
Sky’s Foreign Affairs Editor, Tim Marshall, said that by telling President Assad he could avoid American action by turning over every chemical weapon he has in the next week, Mr Kerry was giving him an option.
“Damascus could now engage in linguistic gymnastics, admit it has small quantities of chemicals, and suggest the United Nations comes to secure them as quickly as possible,” Marshall said.
“Given that ‘quickly’ and the ‘UN’ do not usually belong in the same sentence, that could drag things out for weeks. This is an unlikely scenario, but it is puzzling as to why Mr Kerry even bothered to formulate what can be taken as an ultimatum.”
Mr Kerry also stressed the importance of the “special relationship” between the US and Britain and said the two countries were “enormously tied together”.
Mr Hague said the US has Britain’s “full diplomatic support” and supported “mustering a strong international response” to Mr Assad’s alleged use of chemical weapons.
US politicians are set to discuss backing for military action against Syria as President Barack Obama prepares to make a series of TV appearances to push his case.
Congress will start debating the issue today and are expected to vote later this week on whether to authorise force against the Syrian regime.
While the White House believes an endorsement from the Senate could be within reach, Mr Obama faces a wall of opposition from both Republicans and from many of his Democratic allies in the House of Representatives.
The White House has refused to state whether Mr Obama, elected in 2008 promising to end foreign wars, would order a strike even if Congress votes “no”.
In a determined final effort for military backing, Mr Obama is due to appear on six US TV networks today, ahead of delivering a live address to the nation on Tuesday.