China welcomes US-Russia deal on Syria weapons: foreign minister

BEIJING - China's foreign minister 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 Yi said at a meeting with his visiting French counterpart Laurent Fabius.

Fabius, who arrived in Beijing Sunday morning and was due to head back to Paris later, called the pact "a significant step forward" and said "important decisions need to be taken on Syria".

"We must move forward on the basis of this general agreement," he said.

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.

China is a veto-wielding permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and over the course of the Syrian 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.