President of the Opposition Syrian Coalition, Ahmad Jarba, left, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, center, and American Secretary of State John Kerry attend a Ministerial Meeting of the Group of Friends of the Syrian people, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013 at United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
UNITED NATIONS — The five permanent members of the deeply divided U.N. Security Council reached agreement today on a resolution to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, a major step in taking the most controversial weapon off the battlefield of the world’s deadliest current conflict.
Senior U.S., Russian, British and French diplomats confirmed the agreement, which also includes China. Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said he would introduce the text to the Security Council’s 10 non-permanent members tonight.
A vote on the resolution still depends on how the full council responds to the draft, and on how soon an international group that oversees the global treaty on chemical weapons can adopt a plan for securing and destroying Syria’s stockpile. Diplomats said the earliest the Security Council could vote would be late Friday.
On Twitter, Lyall Grant said the five veto-wielding members, known as the P-5, had agreed on a “binding and enforceable draft ... resolution.” A senior U.S. State Department official said the Russians agreed to support “a strong binding and enforceable resolution.”
But the draft resolution, seen by The Associated Press, makes clear that there is no trigger for any enforcement measures if Syria fails to comply with the provisions of the resolution or the dismantling of its chemical weapons stockpile. Instead, it states that in the event of non-compliance, or any use of chemical weapons, the Security Council will “impose measures under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter,” which will require a second resolution.
Chapter 7 allows for military and nonmilitary actions to promote peace and security. Russia, Syria’s most powerful ally, had opposed any reference to it. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in hastily scheduled, closed-door talks this afternoon to resolve several last-minute disputes on the text, and the agreement was announced soon afterward.
The Security Council has long been paralyzed in dealing with the 2 1/2-year Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 100,000 people and spilled over its borders, because of differences between Russia and China, who back Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, and the U.S., Britain and France, who support the opposition. Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to end the violence.
The flurry of diplomatic activity was spurred by the Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb, and by President Barack Obama’s threat of U.S. strikes in retaliation.
After Kerry said Assad could avert U.S. military action by turning over “every single bit of his chemical weapons” to international control within a week, Russia quickly agreed. Kerry and Lavrov signed an agreement in Geneva on Sept. 13 to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control for later destruction, and Assad’s government accepted the broad proposal.
Tough negotiations, primarily between Russia and the United States, followed on how Syria’s stockpile will be destroyed.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power tweeted this evening that the draft resolution establishes that Syria’s chemical weapons “is threat to international peace & security & creates a new norm against the use of CW.”
While the resolution now works its way through the Security Council, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Hague-based body that will be in charge of securing and destroying the stockpile, was working on its own document to set out its exact duties.
The U.N. resolution will include the text of the OPCW’s declaration and make it legally binding — so the OPCW must act first.
The OPCW said today it was optimistic it could quickly schedule a meeting of its 41-nation executive council to approve its roadmap for Syria’s stockpile.
A U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations have been private, said the OPCW board wasn’t likely to meet before Sunday, which means that Security Council adoption of the resolution likely won’t take place until next week.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters this evening that “we’ve advanced well.”
He cited agreement on three difficult issues that France had pushed for: the inclusion of a sentence saying the use of chemical weapons in Syria and anywhere else is a crime; the inclusion of a reference to Chapter 7 that contains the same wording as in the U.S.-Russia agreement reached in Geneva; and the inclusion of a statement saying those responsible for using chemical weapons must be held accountable.
The Geneva agreement did not have an automatic Chapter 7 trigger for enforcement — a point France’s U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud confirmed this evening.
He said a second resolution will be needed if Syria violates the resolution’s provisions.