UNITED NATIONS/BEIRUT: The U.S. hailed a “historic” accord reached with Russia Thursday on a draft U.N. Security Council resolution to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.
The agreement by the permanent members, whose differences have paralyzed council action on Syria, represents a major breakthrough in addressing two-and-a-half year conflict, which has killed more than 100,000 people.
The five permanent members of the often-divided U.N. Security Council were all in agreement after weeks of diplomatic wrangling, British and U.S. diplomats said.
“This is a breakthrough arrived at through hard-fought diplomacy,” a senior U.S. official said of the accord. “This is historic and unprecedented because it puts oversight of the Assad regime’s compliance under international control.”
Speaking at a Friends of Syria meeting, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that Syria “will implode before any side would claim a military victory” and that all sides needed to move rapidly to put a political solution in place to end the conflict.
Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in hastily scheduled, closed-door talks Thursday afternoon at the United Nations, and the agreement on the resolution was announced soon afterward.
Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Mark Lyall Grant, tweeted that Britain, France, the U.S., Russia and China had agreed on a “binding and enforceable draft ... resolution.”
He said Britain would introduce the text to the 10 other members of the Security Council at a meeting Thursday night.
The U.S. and Russia had been at odds on how to enforce the resolution, but Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power confirmed that the last hurdles to agreement had been overcome.
On Twitter, Power said the draft resolution establishes that Syria’s chemical weapons “is threat to international peace & security & creates a new norm against the use of CW.”
U.N. diplomats said it would be the first legally binding resolution on Syria in the conflict if adopted, which now appears virtually certain.
The agreement came a day after Russia’s deputy foreign minister said negotiators had agreed that the resolution would include a reference to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows for military and nonmilitary actions to promote peace and security.
The P-5 have been discussing for weeks what to include in a new resolution requiring that Syria’s chemical weapons be secured and dismantled. The U.S. and Russia had been at odds on how to enforce the resolution.
The flurry of diplomatic activity is in response to an Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb, and President Barack Obama’s threat of U.S. strikes in retaliation.
After Kerry said Syrian President Bashar Assad could avert U.S. military action by turning over “every single bit of his chemical weapons” to international control within a week, Russia, Syria’s most important ally, agreed. Kerry and Lavrov signed an agreement in Geneva on Sept. 13.
Assad’s government quickly accepted the broad proposal, but there have been tough negotiations on how its stockpile will be destroyed.
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov offered to provide troops to guard facilities where Syria’s chemical weapons would be destroyed.
Work on the resolution came as a team of U.N. experts led by Swede Ake Sellstrom was in Syria for further investigations into chemical weapons use.“This will be a very quick mission; they will only be in Syria a few days,” a U.N. official in New York said, without disclosing their movements for security reasons.
The U.N. inspectors first came to Damascus last month to probe a March 19 attack and two other incidents in the north when the alleged Aug. 21 chemical attack occurred outside the Syrian capital. They returned to Syria Wednesday.
In an interview with Venezuelan television station Telesur broadcast on Wednesday, Assad his government was committed to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which it signed as part of the U.S.-Russian agreement on the destruction of its chemical arsenal.
“ Syria is generally committed to all the agreements that it signs,” he said in the interview, published in full by the state news agency SANA Thursday.
He said Damascus had begun to send the required details of its chemical arsenal to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which is overseeing the deal.
“Experts [from the OPCW] will come to Syria in the coming period to look into the status of these weapons,” he said.
“As the Syrian government, there are no serious obstacles. But there is always the possibility that the terrorists will obstruct the work of the experts by preventing them from accessing certain places.”
On the ground in Syria Thursday, a mortar shell slammed into the Iraqi consulate building in central Damascus, killing one person and wounding three, state media reported.
It was not clear whether the consulate – which is located in the upscale Maliki neighborhood near the United States and Chinese embassies – had been deliberately targeted.
Fresh clashes also erupted in and around the central city of Homs. The government launched an assault on the district of Al-Qusour inside the Old City, Hezbollah run-Al-Manar TV reported. Troops targeted rebels in Al-Qarabis, a village just outside the city, SANA said.
Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda-linked fighters clashed with Kurds in northern Syria, near the border with Turkey, activists said.
The heavy fighting in the town of Atma on the border with Turkey’s Hatay province followed outbreaks of internecine conflict by rival rebel forces elsewhere, which have undermined their military campaign to topple Assad.
At least 15 fighters have been killed in two days of clashes around Atma, activists said.