The United Nations Security Council is meeting tonight on Syria after its five permanent members agreed on terms of a resolution requiring President Bashar al-Assad’s government to surrender its chemical weapons.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in New York for the UN General Assembly, confirmed today there was a basic agreement on a resolution to implement a U.S.-Russian plan to have Assad turn over his toxic arsenal to international control for eventual destruction. The council is seeking a vote on it tomorrow, according to Russia’s UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin.
A U.S. State Department official, who asked not to be identified, said Russia had agreed to a strong, binding and enforceable resolution, marking the first time the Security Council will have declared the use of chemical arms as a threat to peace and security.
Agreement on the terms of a Syria resolution has been complicated by disagreements between the U.S. and Russia over including the threat of punitive measures, up to military force, against Assad’s government if it fails to give up its chemical weapons for eventual destruction.
Russia has used its veto to block previous Security Council attempts to censure the Syrian regime for actions during a 2 1/2-year civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced millions more, according to UN estimates.
Australia’s UN ambassador, Gary Quinlan, who holds the council’s rotating presidency, said that the panel would meet at about 8 p.m. New York time. The council was planning to discuss the measure without voting tonight, according to a UN diplomat who asked not to be identified discussing details that hadn’t been released publicly.
Envoys from the five veto-wielding Security Council members -- the U.S., U.K., Russia, France and China -- reached agreement yesterday on the most contentious issues during a lunch hosted by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, according to a UN diplomat who asked not to be identified.
The resolution builds from an agreement reached this month in Geneva between Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that averted a U.S. military strike against Syria to punish Assad’s government for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people.
Russia and the Assad regime continue to insist that rebel groups were responsible for the attack, a claim that U.S. President Barack Obama dismissed as “fantasy” in remarks to the UN earlier this week.
The executive council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague must decide on a road map for eliminating Syria’s stockpile before the UN Security Council acts. Churkin said tonight that the U.S. and Russia had submitted a draft road map to the chemical-weapons group, which was expected to render a decision tomorrow.
Even if the plan succeeds in eliminating Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons on the stated timetable, which is unlikely given the practical hurdles, that would not tip the balance of power against the Syrian leader, according to a U.S. official who follows the Syrian conflict closely.
First, Assad’s arsenal of conventional weapons, especially artillery and air power, has accounted for more than 98 percent of the casualties in the war, has been resupplied by Iran and is sufficient to overcome the divided and scattered rebel groups and maintain the regime’s hold on the capital, the Alawite heartland on Syria’s Mediterranean coast and a corridor between the two, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence reports.
Even if the chemical weapons agreement holds, Assad may have gotten a good deal by agreeing to give up his nerve gas and other chemical weapons and avoiding a U.S. military strike that could have damaged his conventional arsenal and scattered and demoralized his troops, said the official.
In addition, the official said the internecine fighting between militant Islamic rebel groups, some with close ties to the Iraqi offshoot of al-Qaeda, and more moderate groups has strengthened Assad’s hand and created new doubts about U.S. and European efforts to arm and train rebel groups. In particular, the official said, two or three of the 13 rebel groups that yesterday defected to the extremists were under consideration for receiving Western aid.
The U.S. and its European allies have been seeking to include an enforcement provision under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter because of doubts that Assad will fully comply. Russia had resisted those demands, arguing that the use of force in other Mideast and North African nations, such as Libya, has caused more chaos in the region, not less.
The framework agreement reached between Kerry and Lavrov in Geneva said that, if Syria violates the disarmament plan, the Security Council should impose penalties, without specifying the actions to be taken.