France to take Syria chemical weapons issue to UN

A Russian proposal to put Syria's chemical weapons stockpile under international control has revived international diplomacy on Syria.

Jacques Brinon/AP
France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius speaks during a press meeting at the Quai d' Orsay, in Paris, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013.

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After weeks of talk about imminent military intervention in Syria, a new Russian proposal to collect and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile has rallied war weary and often opposing international players.

Today, France announced it will put a resolution for bringing Syria's chemical weapons stockpile under outside control before the United Nations Security Council, and China, Iran, and the Arab League expressed support for the initiative. The plan is a “potential breakthrough,” said US President Obama.

“We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree to place chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on their subsequent destruction and the fully joining of the treaty on the prohibition of chemical weapons," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday in a statement.

“International pressure” led to Russia’s proposal, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, according to French daily Le Monde and Agence France-Presse.

“International pressure worked,” said Mr. Drian. “If there had not been pressure from France and the United States to ... oppose the use of [chemical weapons], there would not have been this reaction.”

He added that, "We are in no way dropping the pressure. Our entire military system is ready."

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Marzieh Afkham said in a news conference, "The initiative that was expressed by Moscow regarding putting an end to the Syrian crisis at this stage, the Islamic Republic of Iran favors that initiative and we find this to be within the framework of putting a halt to militarism in the region."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says France could put a proposal before the Security Council in the next day, and will likely invoke Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, “a clause that allows member states to use all possible means to enforce a resolution,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

Invoking Chapter 7 could again raise Russian resistance, despite the fact that France is backing a Russian proposal.

European diplomats had secretly proposed a similar resolution to Moscow weeks ago, according to a French official. However, Moscow rejected the proposal, because Chapter 7 makes the resolution binding.

The French official said Paris considered its terms for the draft resolution "nonnegotiable."

Russia, a close ally of Syria that holds veto power, has blocked all previous French-led resolutions at the Security Council, reports the BBC. The Security Council has failed to reach a consensus on any action regarding Syria since violence began there in 2011. 

According to The New York Times “the rapid-fire developments” on the destruction and monitoring of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles came on the tail of a Human Rights Watch report that “supported conclusions by Western governments that only the government of Mr. Assad could have launched the attack that killed hundreds of people, many of them children.”

While Mr. Assad has denied that his forces used toxic agents in the attacks on the morning of Aug. 21, Human Rights Watch in New York said evidence concerning the type of rockets and launchers involved in the strike “suggests that these are weapon systems known and documented to be only in the possession of, and used by, Syrian government armed forces.”

…The report identified the delivery systems used on Aug. 21 as a Soviet-era 140 mm rocket “designed to carry and deliver” about five pounds of sarin, and a 330 mm rocket capable of carrying “a large payload of liquid chemical agent.”

A separate BBC story outlines the challenges the international community could still face if France’s resolution passes at the UN.

First, the Syrian government would need to confirm that it does in fact have chemical weapons, something which for decades it has refused to do – except for one inadvertent aside made by a hapless government spokesman.

Then Damascus would need to identify exactly which and what quantities of chemicals were stored at which location. Such a declaration would need to be verified, probably by UN inspectors, who would need to go in to confirm that the claims of the Syrian government were matched by what they found on the ground.

And even this might not end the arguments over whether the list was comprehensive and whether there were still some stockpiles the Syrian president was holding back. Remember the many visits made to Iraq by UN weapons inspectors over a period of more than 10 years, and the arguments in the run up to the 2003 US led invasion.

Though there is more vocal support in the international community for this non-militarized step in the Syrian conflict, rebels in the country have denounced the proposal as “a political maneuver” to keep Assad in power, reports the Times.

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