Russian UN ambassador 'cannot exclude' war with United States

US president Donald Trump and Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin.
US president Donald Trump and Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin. Photo credit: Getty

Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia has urged the United States and its allies to refrain from military action against Syria, saying he "cannot exclude" war between Washington and Moscow.

Speaking after a closed-door UN Security Council meeting requested by Bolivia over threats of military action in Syria by US President Donald Trump, Mr Nebenzia said the situation was even more dangerous because Russian troops are in Syria.

"The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war," he told reporters. "We hope there will be no point of no return."

When asked if he was referring to a war between the US and Russia, he said, "We cannot exclude any possibilities, unfortunately, because we saw messages that are coming from Washington. They were very bellicose."

Russia has called a meeting of the Security Council for Friday on Syria and has asked for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to publicly brief the body.

In a bid to avoid an escalation, Sweden proposed a Security Council resolution on Thursday that would ask Mr Guterres to send a high-level disarmament team to Syria to address "all outstanding issues on the use of chemical weapons once and for all."

Some UN diplomats said there was little interest among the council's 15 member countries to pursue the proposal.

Mr Nebenzia thanked Sweden for its efforts, but added, "frankly in the circumstances we find ourselves now, this is not an immediate priority."

Investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are travelling to Syria to determine whether a chemical weapon was used in the town of Douma, the site of the April 7 incident, and will start work on Saturday. They are not mandated to assign blame.

Syrian UN Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari told reporters on Thursday, "We're ready to escort them to where they want, whenever they want, anytime they want."

"Any delay or disruption in the visit will be a result of the political pressure exercised on the OPCW from a very well-known state, as the Syrian government expressed its readiness to facilitate this visit," Mr Ja'afari said.

In London, UK Prime Minister Theresa May summoned her Cabinet to discuss military action against Syria.

After meeting for more than two hours, the Cabinet gave Ms May the green light to join the US and France in planning possible strikes, but also left open the possibility of other responses.