The U.S., France and the U.K. are pushing for the United Nations Security Council to adopt a binding resolution next week that would compel Syria to surrender its chemical weapons and threaten actions short of a military attack if the war-torn country fails to do so.
The resolution is intended to require Syria to comply with a U.S.-Russia accord reached in Geneva on Sept. 14, which set a timetable for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to declare, secure and then eliminate his entire arsenal of the nerve agent sarin and other chemical weapons.
The effort encountered headwinds from Russia and China as the five veto-wielding permanent council members met for two days this week to discuss a draft resolution put forward by France, the U.S., and the U.K. Among the contentious issues are whether the measure will allude to a threat of force and whether it will blame Assad’s regime for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus that the U.S. says killed 1,400 people, including more than 400 children.
The timetable already has begun slipping. The three Western allies were hoping that the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague, the body that would oversee removal of Syria’s weapons, would approve the Geneva framework by today, a UN diplomat, who asked not to be identified to discuss the deliberations, said Sept. 18. That would have provided time for the resolution to be adopted by the Security Council on Sept. 22.
Instead, the executive council scheduled its own meeting for Sept. 22.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed impatience yesterday about the continued suggestion by Russian leaders that rebels are responsible for poison-gas attacks in Syria.
“We really don’t have time today to pretend that anyone can have their own set of facts,” he said.
Without naming names, Kerry rebutted comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin and his diplomats who have sided with Assad in disputing what the U.S. says is clear evidence in a UN inspectors’ report implicating government forces in the Aug. 21 attack. The U.S. draws its conclusion from the quantities of sarin, the type of munitions used and the rockets’ trajectories.
The facts in Syria “only grew clearer, and the case only grew more compelling” with the UN report “despite the efforts of some to suggest otherwise,” Kerry said.
The Security Council “must be prepared to act next week” on a measure that embodies the “strongest possible mechanism” to ensure Assad’s compliance, Kerry said.
Any Security Council action next week will be influenced by whether Assad meets his first compliance test under the Geneva accord. By tomorrow, Syria is supposed to provide full disclosure of its chemical weapons and where they’re stored so that starting next month inspectors can verify the information and secure the sites until the material can be destroyed.
Putin said yesterday that he isn’t “100 percent” certain that Assad will fulfill his commitment to give up his chemical weapons.
Kerry “faces the inevitable foot-dragging by both Moscow and Damascus,” said Daniel Serwer, a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. “He is trying to embarrass the Russians into action. They don’t embarrass easily, however.”
Russia has had close ties with Syria since Assad’s father Hafez al-Assad took power in a coup in 1970. Russia has been a major arms provider to the regime and maintains its only military base outside the former Soviet Union at Syria’s Mediterranean port of Tartus.
While the three Western powers drafting the UN document aren’t seeking to threaten an immediate use of force, the resolution must include consequences to ensure that Assad’s actions to eliminate his chemical arsenal by mid-2014 are enforceable, verifiable and binding, said the UN diplomat.
Differences among the three allies pose another hurdle to the speedy adoption of the resolution. France, the U.K. and the U.S. have yet to agree on a firm timeline for the Security Council to act, only on the need to do so as soon as possible after the chemical weapons organization’s decision in The Hague, according to a second UN diplomat who also asked not to be identified discussing the deliberations.
After action by the 41-member Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, a Security Council resolution will be needed to override some provisions of the international Chemical Weapons Convention to allow an effort to find, transport and dismantle chemical arms in the middle of a civil war, the first UN diplomat said.
With the threat of military action receding, West Texas Intermediate crude fell for the fourth time in five days. WTI crude for October delivery, which expires today, slid $1.68 to settle at to $106.39 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Assad’s government is ready to call for a cease-fire at proposed peace talks in Geneva, according to a report in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper, which cited an interview with the nation’s Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil. The daily quoted Jamil as saying neither side to the conflict was capable of “defeating the other.” Jamil’s Popular Will Party said later his comments were taken out of context, according to the state-run Sana news agency.
Opposition leaders have insisted that Assad must quit as part of any political settlement process.
In an interview that aired Sept. 18 on Fox News, Assad said his regime will fully abide by the convention banning chemical weapons and won’t impose conditions. Syria’s government is willing to discuss with international organizations the timeline for destroying chemical munitions, Assad said, adding that some experts estimate it would take a year to eliminate all of them.
In an indication of the challenge, a U.S. stockpile of munitions armed with the same type of nerve gas used in Syria last month is still stored in concrete bunkers at an Army depot in Kentucky 30 years after the U.S. government promised to destroy it.
Once a plan is in place for Syria, a number of UN member states will need to help carry it out because the world body and the chemical weapons organization lack the resources do so without assistance, one of the diplomats said.
The OPCW has only about 70 inspectors to visit an estimated 45 to 50 chemical weapons sites in Syria, and countries such as the Czech Republic, Japan and Russia that have expertise disarming chemical weapons would have to provide support, said a third UN diplomat who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Russia’s army may send chemical and biological experts to Syria to assist with the operation, Russia’s Kommersant newspaper reported, citing an unnamed military official.
The Sept. 16 UN report confirmed the “large scale” use of the nerve agent sarin in a rocket attack, which the three Western allies say only the Assad regime is capable of executing. The inspection team was barred by its mandate from placing responsibility, leaving the door open to conflicting interpretations.
“Now the test comes,” Kerry said. “It is vital for the international community to stand up and speak out in the strongest possible terms about the importance of enforceable action to rid the world of Syria’s chemical weapons.”
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