Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday said he would not curb assistance to his nation's Damascus ally if Syria is targeted by international military action over an August incident that Western powers believe to have been a sarin nerve gas strike carried out by regime forces, Reuters reported.
Putin said he had conferred on Friday with President Obama during the Group of 20 nations' summit in St. Petersburg, but indicated they had not budged in their respective positions on the civil war-torn Middle Eastern country, the wire service reported separately.
"The so-called chemical weapons use ... was a provocation from the side of the insurgents, who are counting on outside help from the countries that have supported them from the start," Putin said in comments reported on Friday by the Wall Street Journal.
The United Kingdom on Thursday claimed to have obtained new forensic indications of a sarin nerve gas strike near Damascus two weeks ago, the London Guardian reported.
Obama on Friday avoided saying whether he might order an attack on Syrian government targets if he fails to receive a requested blessing for the move from Congress, according to the Reuters.
The Defense Department has received orders from Obama to identify additional potential Assad regime targets with an eye to reducing the government's ability to carry out chemical strikes, the New York Times reported on Thursday. Insiders said possible military action could focus on armed forces as well as the headquarters facility overseeing the government's chemical arms. The chemical firing units and launch vehicles also could be targeted. No strikes would be directed at the chemical stockpiles themselves, they said.
Assad's government has undertaken "an escalation ... of chemical weapons use" in the Syrian civil war now in its third year, the Guardian quoted Obama as saying on Friday. Earlier, British Prime Minister David Cameron said "we know that there have been at least 14 previous chemical weapons attacks."
Cameron on Thursday said his country had independently assessed a chemical strike to have taken place based on fabric and earth traces reportedly smuggled from the site of the alleged strike, according to the newspaper. He said the United Kingdom remains "confident" that Assad's regime was behind the incident alleged by the United States to have killed more than 1,400 people outside the Syrian capital.
Russia curtly brushed off the British findings, which echoed conclusions from a human-tissue analysis made public by the United States earlier this week. A Putin spokesman reportedly called the United Kingdom "a small island no one listens to," though he later denied making the remark.
France headed a Thursday push for G-20 summit participants to formally denounce any use of chemical arms, according to the Guardian. However, Cameron said the governments "never" had a chance of agreeing on a statement pertaining to Syria, the newspaper reported.
Washington's envoy to the United Nations on Thursday accused Moscow of holding the U.N. Security Council "hostage" by repeatedly blocking measures related to chemical-weapon allegations coming out of Syria.
"The Security Council the world needs to deal with this crisis is not the Security Council we have," Ambassador Samantha Power said in comments to reporters.