Syria crisis: UN powers discuss Council resolution

Ban Ki-moon was asked if he thought that the UN inspectors would be able to do their work without a ceasefire

The five permanent UN Security Council members have met in New York to discuss a resolution on making safe Syria's chemical weapons.

A resolution is seen as a key step in a US-Russia brokered plan under which Syria will disclose its arsenal within a week and eliminate it by mid-2014.

However, there have already been key disagreements over the wording.

France, the UK and US want a resolution carrying the threat of military action but Russia opposes this.

The US and Russia hammered out their plan last weekend after Washington had threatened the Syrian government with military action over a chemical weapons attack in the Ghouta area of Damascus on 21 August.

In transmitting simultaneously to the Security Council and the General Assembly the report on the incident which took place on 21 August 2013 in the Ghouta area of Damascus (see annex), the Secretary-General expresses his profound shock and regret at the conclusion that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale, resulting in numerous casualties, particularly among civilians and including many children. THE SECRETARY -GENERAL CONDEMNS IN THE STRONGEST POSSIBLE TERMS THE USE OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS and believes that this act is a war crimes and grave violation of the 1925 Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use in War of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare and other relevant rules of customary international law. The international community has a moral responsibility to hold accountable those responsible and for ensuring that chemical weapons can never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare.

A UN report on the attack published on Monday confirmed that the nerve agent sarin had been used in a rocket attack there, although it did not apportion blame.

France, the UK and US insist the report clearly backs their stance that only the government forces were capable of carrying out the attack.

Russia rejects this argument. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Moscow had "serious grounds" to believe the attack had been a provocation by rebel forces.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also says the opposition forces were to blame.

'Provocation'

Tuesday's meeting of envoys of the so-called P5 - France, the UK, the US, Russia and China - lasted for about an hour, with diplomats saying the talks would continue on Wednesday.

They were discussing a draft resolution put forward by the UK, France and the US.

Erin Pelton, a spokeswoman for the US mission to the UN, said before the meeting: "In order to respect the integrity of these negotiations, we will not be reading out the details of the meeting or the draft resolution."

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

Earlier, the disagreements were highlighted at a meeting between Mr Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Moscow.

Referring to the UN's findings, Mr Fabius said: "When you look at the amount of sarin gas used, the vectors, the techniques behind such an attack, as well as other aspects, it seems to leave no doubt that the regime [of President Assad] is behind it."

But Mr Lavrov said: "We have serious grounds to believe this was a provocation... But the truth needs to be established and this will be a test of the future work of the Security Council."

He said any UN resolution on the Syrian chemicals issue should not contain the threat of military action.

A resolution under Chapter VII of the UN charter permits military action if other measures do not succeed. Chapter VI requires a purely negotiated solution.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford in Moscow says Russia has delivered a promise from Syria to give up its chemical weapons, and it seems that at this stage Moscow does not feel like giving the Western allies anything more.

Russia and China have three times blocked Western-backed Security Council resolutions against Mr Assad.

In other developments on Tuesday:

  • A car bomb exploded at the Bab al-Hawa crossing point with Turkey. Activists told Reuters news agency the blast struck a roadblock manned by Islamist brigades and that a number of people were hurt
  • UN emergency relief co-ordinator Valerie Amos says seven million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid, with funding of $4.4bn (£2.76bn) required this year, of which only $1.84bn has been raised
  • Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was to meet Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem on Tuesday in Damascus, Russia's Interfax news agency reported
  • Human Rights Watch says any resolution at the UN should include referring the Syrian government to the International Criminal Court
'War crime'

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described the attack in Ghouta as a war crime.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says he has "no doubt" that President Assad used chemical weapons

The UN investigators examined blood, hair, urine and rocket samples from the scene of the attack.

Mr Ban said 85% of the blood samples had tested positive for sarin.

The report did not attribute blame, as that was not part of its remit.

Mr Ban said the mission was unable to verify the number of casualties, but referred to the "terrible loss of life on 21 August".

More than 100,000 people have died since the uprising against President Assad began in 2011.

Millions of Syrians have fled the country, mostly to neighbouring nations. Millions more have been internally displaced.

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