Syria conflict: Disputes flare over UN resolution

Jeremy Bowen reports from Damascus on reaction to latest developments

A Russian plan for Syria's chemical weapons to be put under international control has sparked immediate disputes over resolutions at the United Nations.

The UK, US and France want a timetable and consequences of failure spelt out, and Washington has warned it will "not fall for stalling tactics".

Russia said any draft putting the blame on Syria was unacceptable and urged a declaration backing its initiative.

US President Barack Obama is addressing the nation on the Syrian crisis.

The White House said earlier that he planned to use the televised statement to argue that Congress should authorise the use of force if required.

Syria has said it accepts the Russian proposal on its chemical stockpile.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said on Tuesday that Damascus was willing to become a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention, Russian Interfax news agency reported,

Chapter 7 of UN Charter

  • Action in response to threats to peace, breaches of peace and acts of aggression
  • Article 41 enables Security Council to decide measures not involving armed force
  • Can suspend economic and diplomatic relations as well as rail, sea and other communications
  • If Article 41 measures are inadequate, Article 42 enables Security Council to take action by air, sea or land forces for international peace and security

Source: UN

"We are ready to honour our commitments under this convention, including providing information about these weapons," he said.

The US alleges that Syrian government forces carried out a chemical weapons attack in Damascus on 21 August, killing 1,429 people.

The Syrian government blames the attack on rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, in a conflict that the UN says has claimed some 100,000 lives.

The UN Security Council was to hold a meeting on Syria at 20:00 GMT.

However, it was later cancelled to allow for more consultations. Russia had asked for the meeting then withdrew the request.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday to discuss Syria, US officials say.

'Proper timetable'

UK government sources have told the BBC that the exact wording of the joint US, French and British resolution on Syria's chemical weapons is still to be agreed.

The BBC's Nick Robinson says diplomats from the three allies are said to be discussing the questions of "what, where, when, who and how" - in other words what weapons should be removed from Syria, where should they be taken to, according to what timetable and who should supervise it.

Chemical weapons plan timeline

5-6 Sept Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama discuss idea of placing Syria's chemical weapons under international control on sidelines of G20 summit, Putin spokesman says

Monday 9 Sept

07:30 GMT At press conference with Russia's Sergei Lavrov, Syria's Walid Muallem hints at chemical weapons plan

09:12 In UK, John Kerry says Mr Assad could avert an attack if he "turn[s] over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community"

14:00 In second press conference, Mr Lavrov says he has urged Mr Muallem to "not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on their subsequent destruction". Mr Muallem welcomes proposal, and it is prominently reported on Syrian state TV, suggesting Damascus is behind plan. Mr Obama says a military strike is "absolutely" on pause if Syria yields control of its chemical weapons

Mr Lavrov told his French counterpart Laurent Fabius on Tuesday that it would not countenance a resolution threatening Syria with force.

"Mr Lavrov stressed that France's proposal to seek approval at the UN Security Council for a resolution... that puts the responsibility for the possible use of chemical weapons on the Syrian authorities is unacceptable," the Russian foreign ministry added in a statement.

Earlier, UK Prime Minister David Cameron said the UN motion should ensure that Russia's offer was "not a ruse".

"We need a proper timetable, process and consequences if it's not done," he said.

Mr Kerry said a binding UN resolution was needed on the issue.

Our correspondent says there is also wrangling over whether the resolution should be Chapter 7 or Chapter 6.

Chapter 7 permits military action if other measures do not succeed. Chapter 6 stipulates peaceful methods of resolving disputes.

BBC diplomatic correspondent Bridget Kendall says days or even weeks of wrangling can be expected in the Security Council.

The test will be whether they can - this time - come up with a formulation they can all agree on, she says.

'American aggression'

Mr Kerry earlier told a hearing of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee that President Barack Obama would "take a hard look" at the Russian plan.

Syria's chemical weapons

  • CIA believes Syria's chemical weapons can be "delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets"
  • Syria believed to possess mustard gas and sarin, and also tried to develop more toxic nerve agents such as VX gas
  • Syria has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) or ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC)

Sources: CSIS, RUSI

He said: "But it has to be swift, it has to be real, it has to be verifiable. We have to show Syria, Russia and the world we are not going to fall for stalling tactics."

He later said the Russian proposals would be "coming in formally during the course of the day".

Mr Kerry urged Congress to stand by Mr Obama, saying the president was not asking for a declaration of war, simply for the power to show that the US "means what we say".

There have been few details so far of Russia's plan, but Mr Lavrov said earlier in Moscow that it was "preparing a concrete proposal which will be presented to all interested sides, including the US... a workable, specific, concrete plan".

Mr Muallem, who is in Moscow, was quoted by Interfax as saying: "We held a very fruitful round of talks with [Mr Lavrov] yesterday and he proposed an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And in the evening, we agreed to the Russian initiative."

"Hunting down banned chemical weapons in a secretive Middle Eastern dictatorship is not easy," as Frank Gardner reports

This would "remove the grounds for American aggression", he said.

The US Senate had been expected to vote this week on a resolution authorising military force, but the Russian plan has led to a postponement.

Walid al-Muallem: "We want to join the convention for the prevention of chemical weapons"

Mr Kerry said that "nothing has changed with respect to our request for the Congress to take action" but that Mr Obama might want to discuss the timing of a vote with congressional leaders.

Mr Lavrov said the Russian initiative was "not a purely Russian initiative... it grew out of contacts we've had with the Americans".

Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Obama discussed the idea on the sidelines of a G20 summit last week, Mr Putin's spokesman said on Tuesday.

Watch President Obama's address to the nation live on the BBC News website at 21:00 EDT on Tuesday (01:00 GMT/02:00 BST Wednesday).

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