MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin urged President Barack Obama on Saturday not to rush into a decision on striking Syria, but to consider whether strikes would help end the violence and be worth the civilian casualties they would inevitably cause.
Speaking for the first time about the suspected chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21, Putin also questioned whether Syrian government troops should be held responsible. He said it would make no sense for them to carry out such a devastating attack while they were on the offensive.
"In such conditions, to give a trump card to those who are calling for foreign military intervention is foolish nonsense," Putin said. "It defies all logic."
The United States said Friday that the attack in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus, the Syrian capital, killed 1,429 people, including more than 400 children.
The Russian leader said he was convinced the suspected chemical attack was a provocation aimed at drawing the U.S. military into Syria's civil war, implying he believed the attack was carried out by the Syrian rebels.
If the Americans have evidence proving the involvement of President Bashar Assad's regime, they should present it to the United Nations inspectors and the U.N. Security Council, he said. "If there is evidence it should be presented," Putin said. "If it is not presented, that means it does not exist."
Putin's foreign policy adviser complained Friday that Russia had not seen the U.S. intelligence that Washington insists proves the Syrian government was responsible for the attack.
On Saturday, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, met with Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov to provide information backing up the U.S. position, the Foreign Ministry said.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his deputies have stated repeatedly that Russia opposes any use of force against Syria without U.N. Security Council approval, while also making clear that Russia would vote against such a resolution.
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