U.S., Russia closer to deal on U.N. Syria resolution

September 25, 2013

The United States and Russia are closing in on a deal to adopt a U.N. Security Council resolution that threatens unspecified consequences against Syria if it fails to disarm its chemical weapons program under the supervision of the United Nations, according to diplomats based at the world body.

The effort falls short of U.S. hopes of securing U.N. support for maximum enforcement measures that, in theory, could include a range of economic or diplomatic sanctions, as well as military force. The United States has said, however, that it does not intend to ask for an explicit authorization for military strikes.

A draft resolution under negotiation by the Security Council’s five permanent members, including the United States and Russia, characterizes the use of chemical weapons as a “threat to international peace and security” and states that Syria “should comply with its obligations to disarm” under the terms of a deal brokered by the United States and Russia. “In the event non-compliance,” according to the draft, the Security Council “will impose measures under Chapter Seven,” a provision of the U.N. Charter that is used to authorize the imposition of sanctions or the use of force.

The draft, one diplomat said late Wednesday, could be introduced to all 15 members of the council within 24 hours.

An earlier version of the draft authorized an International Criminal Court investigation and prosecution of those using chemical weapons, but that language has been dropped. Instead, the current text simply expresses the council’s “strong conviction that those individuals responsible for the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic should be held accountable.”

The thorniest details of the resolution were hammered out Tuesday in negotiations in New York between Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The draft was discussed Wednesday afternoon at a meeting between U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and representatives of the Security Council’s permanent members. “There has certainly been progress in the discussion, and a text is nearly agreed,” said a council diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The remaining differences are over “small details rather than key issues.”

The United States had wanted the Security Council to approve maximum flexibility for enforcing the chemical weapons deal, but U.S. officials have signaled for days that a compromise was likely. The bottom line, one U.S. official said, was that the resulting directive to Syria be clear and enforceable by the Security Council.

The resolution will mirror the agreement worked out in Geneva this month between Kerry and Lavrov. That framework agreement mentions enforcement under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter but does not spell out how Syria’s compliance would be measured or what penalties would be assessed if it falls short.

The Security Council vote is complicated by questions about the role of the U.N.-affiliated chemical weapons inspection organization, based in The Hague. The U.S.-Russian agreement had to be ratified by the executive board of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, but it was not clear how the OPCW would handle enforcement of the deal by Syria.

“We said in that framework in Geneva that we will be very serious about any violation about the obligation of the Chemical Weapons Convention,” Lavrov said in an interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday. “We will be very serious about any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, and those issues would be brought to the Security Council under Chapter Seven.”

Russia had wanted the OPCW to retain greater control over administering the agreement, diplomats said. The body has no real enforcement power on its own.

A jurisdictional dispute between the United Nations and the OPCW over which body would exercise control over the inspections was settled Wednesday, with both agreeing to jointly report findings to the Security Council.

Lally Weymouth contributed to this report.

Anne Gearan is The Washington Post's diplomatic correspondent.
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