UNITED NATIONS— On Thursday, United Nations diplomats moved closer to adopting their first resolution on Syria after the United States and Russia reached agreement on how Damascus will turn over its chemical weapons arsenal to international supervision.
In just over two weeks, intense diplomatic negotiations between top U.S. and Russian diplomats have brought the Security Council close to a breakthrough. Propelled by the urgency caused by an August 21 poison gas attack that the United States says killed some 1,400 people near Damascus, diplomats have agreed on a draft resolution that they say will have real consequences for the government of Bashar al-Assad if he fails to comply.
Late Thursday evening, the U.S. and Russia presented the full 15-nation council with the draft.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said 98 percent of the world agrees that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable.
“Tonight the council discussed a draft resolution that will uphold this international norm by imposing obligations on Syria, on the government, to eliminate this chemical weapons program. This resolution will require the destruction of a category of weapons that the Syrian government has used ruthlessly and repeatedly against its own people. And this resolution will make clear that there are going to be consequences for non-compliance,” said Power.
Power also said that the resolution will help meet the U.S. goal of eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons.
Russian Envoy Vitaly Churkin said agreement came in large part through the efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who negotiated the final draft. He also said that the resolution would provide strong support for the work of the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which will supervise the dismantling of Syria’s chemical arsenal.
“We believe that it is something which is working very pragmatically and strongly in support of this effort of the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria,” said Churkin.
Diplomats said the draft resolution could be voted on as early as Friday evening, once the OPCW Executive Board has adopted a disarmament plan that will be included as an annex to the resolution.
For the first time, the council has stated in a resolution that the use of chemical weapons anywhere constitutes a threat to international peace and security. The resolution also condemns the August 21 attack and forbids Syria from using, producing or otherwise acquiring chemical weapons.
If Syria fails to fully comply with the OPCW and United Nations under the terms of the resolution, the council will seek to impose measures under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which makes provisions for sanctions and military action.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said he hopes President Assad hears the message the council is sending.
“If President Assad felt that he could hide behind certain members of the Security Council, because there could not be unity in the Security Council, he will now need to think again,” said Grant.
The British ambassador also said that after the chemical weapons resolution is adopted, Britain would push very hard for council action on improving humanitarian access to areas that have been difficult to reach.
Russia and China have previously used their vetoes to block three resolutions urging action on Syria.
It is hoped that the draft will help move the Syrian government and the opposition closer to the negotiating table.
More than 100,000 people have been killed and two million more have been made refugees by the Syrian crisis.