LONDON — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States, Britain, France and, importantly Russia, agree Syria must face unspecified “consequences” if it does not live up to the agreement on its chemical weapons. But Russia is insisting there be no threat of force in an upcoming U.N. Security Council resolution.
Kerry stopped Monday in Paris to brief his French and British counterparts on his weekend talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The two reached a framework agreement for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal by the middle of next year.
After the Paris meeting, Kerry said the international community will insist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad complies.
“We will not tolerate avoidance or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime to the core principles of what has been achieved here. If Assad fails to comply with the terms of this framework, make no mistake, we are all agreed, and that includes Russia, that there will be consequences,” stated Kerry.
The secretary did not specify what the “consequences” will be. But he also said the possibility of U.S. military action is “still on the table.”
Speaking minutes later in Moscow, Lavrov said if the three Western powers insist on a U.N. Security Council resolution that threatens the use of force, they would be “wrecking completely” the drive for peace talks on Syria. Russia wants any threat of force handled later, and only if necessary.
Lavrov said he expects the United States to “firmly adhere” to what he and Secretary Kerry agreed on during weekend talks in Geneva. That agreement calls for U.N. inspections in Syria and commits the United States and Russia to support the use of force if Syria fails to comply.
A Security Council resolution is to formalize the plan, and Kerry said the resolution must have some enforcement mechanism. Otherwise, he said, the Assad government will, in his words, “play games,” said Kerry.
“What we achieve in this agreement, as we translate [the] Geneva agreement into a United Nations resolution has to be strong and it has to be forceful. It has to be real. It has to be accountable. It has to be transparent. It has to be timely. All of those things are critical. And it has to be enforced.”
Secretary Kerry warned Assad not to take this agreement as recognition of his legitimacy or of any right to use his conventional forces against the opposition. Kerry said the United States is committed to the opposition and to a political settlement to establish a transitional government to determine the future of Syria.
Kerry rejected complaints by some opposition leaders who want U.S. airstrikes on Syrian military targets. Some in the opposition said they are left in a weaker position, but Kerry argued the agreement depriving the government of its most destructive type of weapon can only help the opposition.
He also rejected claims the plan is unworkable, saying if the Syrian government wants to comply, it can get inspectors into areas where its chemical weapons are stored, and the West will encourage the opposition not to disrupt the inspectors’ work.
At the Paris meeting, the three Western foreign ministers also said they will take further steps to strengthen the Syrian opposition, and will hold a meeting with its leaders in New York next week.