China tells Washington to return to U.N. on Syria, urges caution

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Protesters against U.S. military action in Syria march to Capitol Hill from the White House in Washington, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013. President Barack Obama has asked the U.S. Congress to approve the use of force. A final vote in the U.S. Senate is expected at the end of the coming week. A U.S. House vote is likely in the week of Sept. 16. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

BEIJING (Reuters) - China urged the United States to proceed with extreme caution and return to the United Nations to discuss Syria after Washington said it was not seeking Security Council approval for action in response to a chemical weapons attack last month.

Washington and Paris say forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad were behind the attack in which more than 1,400 are estimated to have been killed, and that they are considering air strikes to try to deter him from using such weapons again.

China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi said relevant countries should "think thrice" before acting and exercise "extreme caution".

" should return to the United Nations Security Council framework to seek consensus and appropriately handle the Syria issue," Wang told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a telephone call late on Sunday night.

China and the United States should take the lead in upholding the U.N. charter to "preserve and protect the basic norms of international relations and oppose any use of chemical weapons", Wang said, according to a statement on the Foreign Ministry's website.

The remarks come after Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. President Barack Obama at a G20 summit in Russia on Friday that a military strike could not solve the problem and that a political solution was the correct way out.

China has repeatedly called for an impartial investigation by U.N. chemical weapons inspectors into the attack in Syria, and has warned against pre-judging the results. It has also said that whoever used chemical weapons had to be held accountable.

U.N. inspectors are likely to hand in their report later this week while the U.S. Congress debates whether to allow limited strikes on Syria.

French President Francois Hollande, increasingly under pressure at home and among European partners to seek a U.N. mandate before any military intervention in Syria, suggested on Saturday he could seek a resolution at the Security Council despite previous Russian and Chinese vetoes.

Kerry said the White House is "listening carefully" to Hollande's comments, but that Obama had not made a decision.

Chinese state media said on Monday Obama's "all-guns-blazing campaign to lobby" for armed intervention did not hold up and that a military strike on Syria would be a violation of international law.

"It is high time to let reason prevail over recklessness," the official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary, which reflects official thinking.

Apart from its Security Council veto, China has also been keen to show it is not taking sides and has urged the Syrian government to talk to the opposition and take steps to meet demands for political change.

It has said a transitional government should be formed.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Paul Tait)