PARIS: France, Britain and the United States called on Monday for a swift U.N. resolution committing Syria to remove its chemical weapons, but Russia introduced a note of caution about imposing strong consequences if President Bashar al-Assad failed to comply.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed that an accord reached at the weekend with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov targeted a U.N. resolution referring to sanctions for non-compliance, including a new Security Council resolution.
"If Assad fails in time to abide by the terms of this framework, make no mistake, we are all agreed - and that includes Russia - that there will be consequences," Kerry told a news conference in Paris with French and British counterparts.
But Lavrov introduced a note of caution, telling journalists in Moscow that calls for a swift U.N. resolution threatening potential punishment for Syria under Chapter VII showed a "lack of understanding" of the deal.
According to the deal, the U.S. and Russia would return to the Security Council and explore options for punishing the regime if it failed to comply. This could include seeking a new resolution authorising force under Chapter VII of the UN charter.
Kerry's statement followed talks involving the foreign ministers of the three countries and President Francois Hollande in the French capital, two days after Russia and the United States hammered out a deal on chemical weapons that could avert U.S. military action.
"They've agreed to seek a strong and robust resolution that sets precise and binding deadlines with a calendar," said an official at Hollande's office, who declined to be named.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius stressed that the option of strikes should remain on the table but added: "There is no military solution to this conflict, only a political one."
Asked whether the dwindling prospect of military strikes and the switch of immediate focus to the removal of Assad's chemical weapons was not a setback for opposition forces trying to oust the Syrian leader, Kerry replied: "We're taking a weapon away from him that he has been using against his own people. How can the opposition be worse off...?"
A meeting of opposition forces would take place on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly later this month in a bid to strengthen them, Fabius added.
"Nothing has been done which tells Assad that there is some legitimacy to the process," Kerry said. "Assad has lost all legitimacy to be possible to govern this country."
After months in which Moscow and Washington failed to agree a line on Syria, Kerry and Lavrov demanded Assad account for his secret stockpile within a week and let international inspectors eliminate all the weapons by the middle of next year.
Under the terms of the U.S.-Russian agreement, the U.N. Security Council - on which Russia has a veto - will oversee the process.
"If the Assad regime feels it is not enforceable then it will play games," Kerry said.
The agreement states that a Security Council resolution should allow for regular assessments of Syria's behaviour and "in the event of non-compliance ... the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter".
Chapter VII can include force but can be limited to other kinds of sanction. When Kerry said the council "must" impose measures under Chapter VII, Lavrov interrupted to point out that the agreed text says only it "should" impose penalties.
Hollande said on Sunday Paris wanted the U.N. resolution, which is currently being worked on by France, Britain and the U.S., to be voted by the end of this week.