December 20, 2013
US, Russia agree on Syria chemical arms measure
Ending weeks of diplomatic deadlock, the United States and Russia have reached an agreement on a draft UN Security Council resolution aimed at ridding Syria of its chemical weapons arsenal.
Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said a deal was struck with Russia "legally obligating" Syria to give up its chemical stockpile and the measure would go to the full Security Council this evening. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said an "understanding" had been hammered out.
The United States had been negotiating on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly with Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chief ally. The aim was to craft a measure to demand the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal in line with a US-Russian deal reached earlier this month that averted American military strikes on Syria in the midst of Syria's civil war.
Western powers on the Security Council backed away from many of their initial demands, diplomats say, in order to secure Russia's approval.
A major sticking point between Russia and Western powers was whether the resolution would be under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which covers the council's authority to enforce its decisions with measures such as sanctions or military force.
The compromise draft resolution makes the measure legally binding but provides for no means of automatic enforcement with sanctions or military force. Originally, the United States, Britain and France had wanted the resolution to state explicitly that it was under Chapter 7.
The only reference to enforcement in the draft is a threat that if Syria fails to comply with the resolution, the council would impose punitive measures under Chapter 7, which would require a second resolution that Russia could veto.
A US State Department official hailed the deal as a "breakthrough."
"The Russians have agreed to support a strong, binding and enforceable resolution that unites the pressure and focus of the international community on the Syrian regime to ensure the elimination of Syria's chemical weapons," the official said.
The UN Security Council will hold a closed-door session to debate the issue at 8 pm local time (0000 GMT), the French delegation said. A vote was not expected, one diplomat said.
Diplomats from the permanent Security Council members - China, Russia, the United States, France and Britain - had been haggling over the details of a resolution to back the American-Russian accord announced on Sept. 14 in Geneva to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons.
Assad agreed to destroy Syria's chemical weapons in line with the US-Russian agreement in the wake of that sarin gas strike on civilians in the suburbs of Damascus last month - the world's deadliest chemical arms attack in 25 years.
Washington has blamed Assad's forces for the attack, which it said killed more than 1,400 people, and President Barack Obama threatened a US military strike in response.
Russia and Assad have blamed the attack on rebels battling to overthrow him in a civil war that, according to the United Nations, has left more than 100,000 people dead.