NEW YORK/BEIRUT: Diplomats from the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China will meet again Wednesday to discuss a Western-drafted resolution which would demand the destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal, after talks ended Tuesday without agreement. Nearly an hour of initial talks – which come after a U.S.-Russian deal agreed in Geneva last weekend – ended with an agreement to meet again Wednesday, diplomats said.
Tuesday’s meeting came a day after U.N. investigators confirmed the use of sarin nerve agent in an Aug. 21 poison gas attack outside the Syrian capital. The United States, Britain and France said the long-awaited report proved beyond any doubt that Syrian government forces were responsible.
Erin Pelton, spokeswoman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations, said the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council – the “P5” – were discussing a joint U.S.-British-French draft but declined to comment at length.
“In order to respect the integrity of these negotiations, we will not be reading out the details of today’s meeting or the draft resolution,” she said.
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told Reuters that “the P5 had a discussion of the text but we will be meeting again,” after the meeting at the U.S. mission ended. “Obviously everyone has to put it back to their capitals and then we’ll have a further discussion tomorrow.”
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin also declined to comment in detail, saying “I don’t have any initial reaction” to the Western draft resolution.
“We’re doing a very important thing,” Churkin told Reuters. “We originated a very important proposal and we hope it’s going to be implemented without any interference.”
The resolution is intended to support a U.S.-Russian deal agreed in Geneva Saturday which calls for Syria to account fully for its chemical weapons within a week and for the removal and destruction of the entire arsenal by mid-2014.
That deal was agreed after President Barack Obama threatened to launch U.S. strikes against Syria because of the Aug. 21 poison gas attack.
U.N. diplomats told Reuters it was unclear when a vote on a Security Council resolution could take place.
Before any draft resolution is put to a vote in the 15-nation Security Council, diplomats said, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ Executive Council in The Hague will have to approve a decision setting down special procedures for dealing with Syria’s chemical weapons.
Diplomats in New York said the OPCW decision was expected Friday at the earliest. That meant a council vote was possible over the coming weekend, they said.
Russia, backed by China, has vetoed three council resolutions since October 2011 that would have condemned the Syrian government and threatened it with sanctions.One diplomat said the U.S.-British-French draft was similar to an initial French text. That draft called for giving Syria an ultimatum to give up its chemical weapons or face “necessary measures.”
The current Western draft, the diplomats said, would still condemn and blame Syrian President Bashar Assad for the use of chemical weapons in his country and refer the civil war to the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes indictments.
The draft is also written so that its provisions are under Chapter VII of the U.N. charter, which covers the Security Council’s authority to enforce its decisions with measures such as sanctions or the use of force.
Russia has made clear it will not accept an initial resolution under Chapter VII and that any punitive measures would come only in the event of clearly proven Syrian non-compliance on the basis of a second Security Council resolution under Chapter VII.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said any resolution must be enforceable, telling reporters that the “most effective” way is under Chapter VII. While in principle all Security Council resolutions are legally binding, Ban said, “In reality, we need clear guidelines under Chapter VII.”
Syrian opposition chief Ahmad Jarba urged the Security Council to adopt a resolution under Chapter VII to cripple Syria’s “war machine.”
In a speech on Arab televisions, Jarba said that “ending the killing of Syrian people is only possible by stopping the regime’s war machine and barring it from using its aviation, missiles and artillery, and depriving it of its chemical weapons.”
Also Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow believed the Aug. 21 gassing was a “provocation.”
In response, the U.S. said that Russia was ignoring “the facts” in Syria when it doubted that the government, rather than rebels, had been behind the attack.
“He’s swimming against the tide of international public opinion, but more importantly, the facts,” State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said, referring to Lavrov.
The U.N. report “confirms unequivocally that chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, were used in Syria. We all know that. But based on our preliminary view of information contained in the report, several crucial details confirmed the Assad regime’s guilt in carrying out this attack,” Psaki said.
The Obama administration explained its strategy to Congress Tuesday for eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons, holding closed briefings and private conference calls with lawmakers who are unenthusiastic about the possibility of being asked again to authorize U.S. military action against Assad’s government.
Back from last week’s negotiations in Geneva, Secretary of State John Kerry briefed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a chemical weapons plan ironed out with Russia. One of Kerry’s deputies, Wendy Sherman, spoke by telephone with House Foreign Affairs Committee members.