US, Russia break deadlock on Syria chemical arms
By Tim Witcher, AFPUNITED NATIONS--The United States and Russia agreed to a draft U.N. Security Council resolution Thursday on destroying Syria's chemical weapons, breaking a prolonged deadlock over the country's bitter conflict.
September 28, 2013, 12:05 am TWN
After the 15-member council held its first talks on the text, diplomats said a vote would be held Friday, with foreign ministers from the major powers taking part.
If agreed, the resolution would be the first passed by the panel on Syria since the civil war — which the U.N. says has killed more than 100,000 people — started in March 2011.
“I don't think it is the time for high fives or back slapping or anything,” said the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.
But “we have before us a very significant breakthrough in terms of the Security Council acting finally, potentially, in a united fashion in order to impose binding legal obligations on the Syrian regime for the first time.”
The council has barely been able to discuss Syria since fighting broke out there. Russia, which backs President Bashar al-Assad, has vetoed three Western-drafted resolutions seeking to increase pressure on him.
Moscow has completely rejected any suggestion of military force or sanctions against al-Assad.
The new draft U.S.-Russian resolution, seen by AFP, does not propose immediate measures over a chemical attack in a Damascus suburb a month ago that Power said had been “the catalyst” for the new unity. But it allows for possible sanctions — after a new vote — if there are breaches of a disarmament plan.
The text says the council “decides in event of non-compliance with this resolution, including unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic, to impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.”
It says the council can consider measures if the world chemical weapons watchdog or U.N. leader Ban Ki-moon report a breach of a Russia-U.S. disarmament plan.
Chapter VII can allow sanctions or military force. But there would have to be a new vote and diplomats predicted tough talks to persuade Russia not to use its veto again.
Any action would be “proportionate to the gravity of the violation,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.
European nations had also wanted the resolution to refer the Syrian conflict to the International Criminal Court.
But the draft says only that the council “expresses strong conviction that those individuals responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria should be held accountable.”
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius still called the proposed resolution “a step forward” and added “we are satisfied.”
The resolution accord was announced after new talks between Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
Lavrov told reporters “an understanding” with the United States on a draft U.N. resolution and a joint disarmament plan was to be approved by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Kerry, meanwhile, said the international community “can now move forward and give life hopefully to the removal and destruction of chemical weapons from Syria.”
If the OPCW executive council, based in The Hague, approves the disarmament plan Friday then a Security Council vote would be held later in the day.