Western envoys tout deal on core of UN Syria draft, Russia denies it

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Envoys from the United States, Russia, France, China and Britain have come to an agreement on the core of a UN Security Council resolution to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons, three Western diplomats said yesterday, but Russia denied such an accord had been reached and insisted work was “still going on.”

Diplomats from the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council have been haggling over the details of a resolution to back an accord hammered out by Russia and the United States on Sept 14 in Geneva to eliminate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal.

Yesterday’s development came after the foreign ministers of the five council powers met over lunch with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Several envoys said a draft resolution could be presented to the full 15-nation council soon, and the five permanent members would also meet tomorrow to discuss a proposed Syria peace conference in Geneva.

“We have a few details to solve. But I think we shall reach a common resolution maybe today or tomorrow,” said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

A Western diplomatic source said: “It seems that things are moving forward,” adding that there was “an agreement among the five on the core.”

“We are closer on all the key points,” he said. A third diplomat also suggested a deal on the draft resolution was within reach.

However, Russia rejected the Western diplomats’ suggestions that there was an agreement on the core of a draft resolution.

“This is just their wishful thinking,” said the spokesman for Russia’s UN delegation. “It is not the reality. The work on the draft resolution is still going on.”

A US official cited progress while cautioning that there was still work to be done. “We’re making progress but we’re not done yet,” the official told Reuters.

One of the Western diplomats said “there has been real progress. There was an agreement between the five on the core of the project.”

Another diplomat also said core issues had been agreed, but there are “still some areas of outstanding disagreement” and there were no plans yet to circulate a draft resolution to the full council – a key step before putting it to the vote.

Negotiations on a draft in New York had come to a standstill while Russia and the United States struggled to reach an agreement acceptable to both.

But it appears that after talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, the deadlock was broken.

A major sticking point between Russia and Western powers has been whether the resolution is written under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which covers the Security Council’s authority to enforce decisions with measures such as sanctions or military force.

Another point of disagreement is the role of the United Nations in the process of destroying Syria’s chemical weapons and who determines what constitutes non-compliance – the Security Council or the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.

The latest draft has the council determining non-compliance, a diplomat said.

Assad agreed to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in the wake of a sarin gas strike on civilians in the suburbs of Damascus last month – the world’s deadliest chemical arms attack in 25 years. He accepted a US-Russian agreement that Damascus’ chemical arsenal should be dismantled.

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