Prospects for quick approval of a UN Security Council resolution to back up a US-Russia deal on Syria’s chemical weapons are dimming over demands that Syria be held accountable – including with a possible use of force – if it fails to abide by the agreement.
Mirroring the split in the council that has prevented any UN action on Syria over the course of its 2-1/2-year-old civil war, Western powers and Russia are at loggerheads over what a resolution should say about the consequences for noncompliance with the plan to rid Syria of one of the world’s largest stockpiles of chemical weapons.
The speed bumps on the road to Security Council action only seemed to get higher Wednesday as Russia slammed a UN weapons inspectors’ report on Syria issued Monday, saying it was biased against the Syrian government – Moscow’s ally – and tainted by politics.
Russia also says it will present evidence to the Security Council to back up its claim that it was Syrian rebels, and not the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who launched a barrage of chemical weapons onto the Damascus suburbs Aug. 21. The report by the UN weapons inspection team does not place blame for the August attack, but Western powers – including the US, France, and the United Kingdom – say the evidence in the report unquestionably points to the Assad regime.
The Security Council’s five permanent and veto-wielding members – the US, Russia, China, France, and the UK – were expected to meet Wednesday on a proposed resolution. But UN officials and diplomats close to council workings said after an initial meeting Tuesday that imminent agreement on “consequences” language appeared unlikely.
A draft resolution proposed by the US, France, and the UK refers to compliance provisions under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which authorizes the enforcement of Security Council decisions through sanctions or the use of force.
Russia wants any enforcement measures to require a second council vote when and if noncompliance occurs, while the Western powers insist that a strong threat of force is necessary to guarantee adherence to the disarmament plan.
The dispute over resolution language surfaced even before Russia said Wednesday that it would present evidence to the council laying responsibility for the Aug. 21 sarin nerve gas attack at the rebels’ feet.
“We will discuss all this in the Security Council, together with the report which was submitted by UN experts and which confirms that chemical weapons were used,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday. “We will have to find out who did it.”
Mr. Lavrov’s deputy, Sergei Ryabkov, was more blunt about Russia’s disregard for the UN’s chemical weapons report. Speaking while on a visit to Damascus to meet Mr. Assad Wednesday, Mr. Ryabkov said, “We are disappointed, to put it mildly, about the approach taken by the UN secretariat and the UN inspectors, who prepared the report selectively and incompletely.”
Russia’s contention that the UN inspectors’ report was biased was quickly disputed by UN officials. The report’s findings “speak for themselves, and this was a thoroughly objective report on that [Aug. 21] incident,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said Wednesday.
The Russian charge that the UN inspectors were “politically motivated” also rubbed some council members the wrong way. “We are surprised by Russia’s attitude because they are calling into question not the report, but the objectivity in the inspectors,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday.
It is unclear how the slowdown in the council affects the timetable laid out in the plan, hammered out last weekend by Mr. Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry, for Syria to verifiably give up all of its chemical weapons by the middle of next year.
Under the plan, Syria is to deliver a full inventory of its chemical weapons stockpile by Saturday.