September 9, 2013 - 09:14 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has told a U.S. broadcaster there is "no evidence" that his government has used chemical weapons.
According to BBC News, in the interview with PBS, to be aired on Monday, Sept 9, he also suggested his allies would retaliate if the West attacked.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been lobbying hard for military action against Assad during talks with EU and Arab foreign ministers in Europe.
U.S. Congress is due to debate whether to authorize intervention in Syria. Lawmakers will return from their summer recess on Monday to start discussing President Barack Obama's resolution to launch a "limited, narrow" strike.
The U.S. accuses Assad's forces of killing 1,429 people in a sarin gas attack on August 21 on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.
The Syrian president said it was up to the U.S. to prove that his forces were behind the Damascus attack. "There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people," he told the network.
Assad would neither confirm nor deny that his government kept chemical weapons, but said that if they existed, they were "in centralized control".
China urged the U.S. to proceed with extreme caution and return to the United Nations to discuss Syria after Washington said it was not seeking Security Council approval for action in response to a chemical weapons attack last month.
According to Reuters, China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said relevant countries should "think thrice" before acting and exercise "extreme caution".
"The U.S. should return to the United Nations Security Council framework to seek consensus and appropriately handle the Syria issue," Wang told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a telephone call late on Sunday night.
China and the United States should take the lead in upholding the UN charter to "preserve and protect the basic norms of international relations and oppose any use of chemical weapons", Wang said, according to a statement on the Foreign Ministry's website.
Chinese state media said on Monday Obama's "all-guns-blazing campaign to lobby" for armed intervention did not hold up and that a military strike on Syria would be a violation of international law. "It is high time to let reason prevail over recklessness," the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary, which reflects official thinking.
Kerry is going to meet UK Foreign Secretary William Hague in London on Monday morning.
The British parliament has already voted against the UK joining any U.S.-led military intervention in Syria. But Hague has reiterated his support for Washington's stance.
"I do believe very strongly the world must stand up to the use of chemical weapons and there is a debate now taking place in the U.S. Congress and since our parliament has spoken," he told the BBC.
A poll commissioned by the BBC and ABC News suggested more than one-third of Congress members were undecided - and a majority of those who had made a decision said they would vote against the president.Many remain concerned that military action could draw the U.S. into a prolonged war and spark broader hostilities in the region.
As international wrangling continues, Islamist militants from the Nusra Front and other rebels appear to have taken control of most of Maaloula, an ancient Christian village about 55km (34 miles) north of Damascus.
Heavy fighting is said to be continuing between the rebels and government troops, which have surrounded the village. There are fears for Maaloula's heritage, with reports that militant Islamist rebels have attacked churches.