NEW YORK - Russian President Vladimir Putin, writing in the New York Times, said Wednesday that "there is every reason to believe'' poison gas was used in Syria by opposition rebels rather than that nation's military.
Putin, whose offer to help ensure Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles are contained has presented President Obama with a diplomatic opening for avoiding military action there, said a unilateral strike by the United States would kill civilians, unleash more terrorism and undermine international law.
"The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria's borders,'' Putin wrote.
"A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. ... It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.''
Putin said al-Qaeda and other groups designated as terrorist organizations by the U.S. State Department are battling the Syrian government, and that their violence threatens to spill out of the region and threaten others, including Russia.
"No one doubts that poison gas was used in Syria. But there is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists,'' Putin wrote. "Reports that militants are preparing another attack - this time against Israel - cannot be ignored.''
"We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement,'' he wrote.
In the strongly worded opinion column published online by the newspaper Wednesday night, Putin took issue with Obama for making what the Russian leader called a case for American exceptionalism a day earlier in his address to the nation about chemical weapons in Syria.
"It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation,'' Putin wrote.
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