* Top Chinese diplomat holds strategic talks in Russia
* Obama says could act against Syria over chemical arms
* Russia still smarting over intervention in Libya
* Syrian Deputy PM: military intervention would spread
By Steve Gutterman and Thomas Grove
MOSCOW, Aug 21 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov warned the West on Tuesday against unilateral action on
Syria a day after President Barack Obama said U.S. forces could
intervene if his Syrian counterpart deployed chemical weapons
against rebels trying to topple him.
Lavrov met China's top diplomat and a Syrian government
delegation in what appeared to be a push to keep diplomacy going
at a time when fewer Western and Arab governments believe that a
U.N.-backed peace plan can end the violence.
Russia and China have opposed military intervention in Syria
throughout 17 months of bloodshed and have vetoed three U.N.
Security Council resolutions backed by Western and Arab states
that would have raised pressure on Damascus to stop bloodshed.
Lavrov spoke at a meeting with China's State Councillor Dai
Bingguo a day after Obama, asked by reporters whether he might
deploy forces in Syria under certain conditions, said: "A red
line for us is (if) we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical
weapons moving around or being utilised."
Lavrov said at the meeting with Dai that Russia and China
base their diplomatic cooperation on "the need to strictly
adhere to the norms of international law and the principles
contained in the U.N. Charter and not to allow their violation".
"I think this is the only correct path in today's
conditions," Lavrov told Dai, who also met President Vladimir
Putin and his top security adviser, Nikolai Patrushev, on Monday
for consultations that went unannounced by the Kremlin.
Lavrov's remarks also underscored Moscow's wish to keep
international efforts to end Syria's crisis within the United
Nations, where Russia and China wield clout as two of the five
permanent Security Council members with veto power.
Frustrated by the vetoes and by the refusal of Russia and
China to join calls for Assad to leave power, the United States
and other Western and Arab countries are seeking other ways to
exert influence on the situation in Syria.
OBAMA WARNING OVER CHEMICAL WEAPONS
Obama said on Monday he had refrained "at this point" from
ordering military engagement in Syria. But when asked whether he
might deploy forces, for example to secure Syrian chemical and
biological weapons, he said his view could change.
Russia has also expressed concern about Syria's chemical
arsenal, saying it had told Damascus that even the threat to use
it was unacceptable.
But Lavrov said on Monday that the Security Council alone
could authorise the use of external force against Syria, warning
against imposing "democracy by bombs".
Western officials say that Russia's vetoes have abetted the
Syrian violence by encouraging Assad to pursue an offensive with
his Russian-supplied armed forces to crush the popular revolt.
To help counter Assad's superior firepower, Western powers
are giving non-lethal equipment to rebels and Saudi Arabia and
Qatar are believed to have funded arms shipments to them. The
West has also increased sanctions against Assad's government.
After the talks with Dai, Lavrov met a Syrian government
delegation led by Qadri Jamil, deputy premier for economic
affairs, who was in Moscow for the second time this month.
Lavrov said national reconciliation was still viable and the
only way to stop bloodshed in Syria regardless of opponents of
Damascus domestically and abroad.
"If everyone whom the destiny of Syria and its people depend
upon realise their responsibility, there are chances for
reconciliation," Lavrov said. "The chances are far from 100
percent, but they do exist."
He said a halt to fighting was the way to implement an
agreement reached by world powers in June on the need to
establish a transitional government.
Russia and the West have differed over what the agreement
reached in Geneva meant for Assad, with Lavrov saying it did not
imply he should step down and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton saying it sent a clear message that he must quit.
Jamil told Lavrov that the Syrian government wants national
reconciliation and all sides must make compromises but that
"external interference ... is hindering efforts for Syrians
themselves to resolve the problem," Interfax reported.
Later, he denied foreign military intervention in Syria
would be possible because it would lead to a conflict beyond the
country's borders - a possible allusion to Syria's sectarian
divisions having parallels in neighbouring states.
"Direct military intervention in Syria is impossible because
whoever thinks about it ... is heading towards a confrontation
wider than Syria's borders," he said. He said Obama's threat was
for media consumption.
Russian leaders have said they are determined to avoid a
repeat of what occurred in 2011 in Libya, when Moscow let NATO
military operations go ahead by abstaining from Security Council
resolution that authorised air operations.
Russian officials then accused the United States and its
allies of overstepping their mandate and using it to help rebels
overthrow longtime leader Muammar Gaddafi. Putin, prime minister
then but now back in official charge of foreign policy, likened
the U.N. resolution to "medieval calls for crusades".
Russia denies that it is propping up Assad and says it would
accept his exit in a political transition decided by the Syrian
people, but that his departure must not be a precondition and he
must not be pushed out by external forces.
China has issued similar warnings to the West.