US, Russia agree on Syria UN chemical arms measure

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Ending weeks of diplomatic deadlock, the United States and Russia agreed yesterday on a UN Security Council draft resolution that would demand Syria give up its chemical arms, but does not threaten military force if it fails to comply.

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 went to the full Security Council in a closed-door meeting last night.

US, Russian, French and British diplomats told reporters the vote could come as early as Friday evening, provided the Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague approves a plan for the destruction of Syria’s poison gas arsenal beforehand.

“I know that some (foreign) ministers are extending their stay in New York in order to participate in that vote,” Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters.

The agreement emerged from intense negotiations at the United Nations with Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chief ally. The aim was to craft a measure to require destruction of Syria’s chemical arsenal in line with a US-Russian deal reached earlier this month that averted American strikes on Assad’s forces in the midst of a bloody 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. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said an “understanding” had been hammered out, but gave no details.

A major sticking point had been Russia’s opposition to writing the resolution 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, obtained by Reuters, makes the measure legally binding, but provides for no means of automatic enforcement as the United States, Britain and France originally wanted.

The only reference to enforcement in the draft is a threat that if Syria fails to comply with the resolution, the council would impose unspecified 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.

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 amid an international outcry over a sarin gas strike in the suburbs of Damascus last month – the world’s deadliest chemical attack in 25 years.

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