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Russia, West at odds over plan to rid Syria of chemical weapons

Russia and the United States put aside bitter differences over Syria this month to strike a deal to remove President Bashar al-Assad`s chemical arsenal and avert US military action against him.

Updated: Sep 24, 2013, 09:45 AM IST

New York: Russia and the United States put aside bitter differences over Syria this month to strike a deal to remove President Bashar al-Assad`s chemical arsenal and avert US military action against him.

But efforts to forge a UN Security Council resolution endorsing that plan have run into difficulties due to disagreements between Russia on one side and the United States, Britain and France on the other, UN diplomats say.

The US-Russia deal came after an August 21 sarin gas attack near Damascus that Washington says killed over 1,400 people, many of them children.

Syria has roughly 1,000 tonnes of chemical toxins - including mustard gas and the nerve agents sarin and VX - spread over as many as 50 sites around the country.

The 41-member Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague is expected to vote on Tuesday on a joint Russian-American proposal to rapidly verify and destroy Syria`s chemical weapons stockpile. That vote has been repeatedly delayed.

According to the US-Russia framework agreement, the chemical arms agency`s Executive Council will detail "special procedures for expeditious destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program and stringent verification thereof."

The chemical arms agency`s decision must be approved by a simple majority of council members, though agreement is almost always reached through a consensus, which is expected in Syria`s case. The council meets behind closed doors but may be open to observer countries that are not yet members. Syria is not yet a full member.

Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention this month in line with the US-Russia deal. Its accession to the treaty comes into force in October.

On Saturday, the one-week limit for Syria to present a complete list of its chemical weapons program lapsed. Syria submitted the list to the OPCW, the agency said.

By November 30, inspectors from The Hague`s chemical arms agency are due to have completed on-site inspections of locations declared by Syria.

November 30 is also the deadline for destruction of chemical weapons production and mixing/filling equipment.

By June 30, 2014, the destruction of the entire Syrian chemical weapons arsenal is due to be completed.

What is the main sticking point?

Enforceability. The United States, Britain and France want the measures in the resolution to be legally binding and enforceable under Chapter 7 of the UN charter. Chapter 7 outlines mechanisms for enforcement, which include diplomatic and economic sanctions as well as military intervention.

Russia has rejected the idea of using a Chapter 7 resolution to make the agreement legally binding and enforceable. It says that could open the door to an Iraq- or Libya-style foreign military operation.

Diplomats said the current draft reflects the language of the US-Russia framework agreement approved in Geneva. That agreement said that "in the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday: "The UN Security Council may adopt a strong resolution in support of the decision of the OPCW, but it will not be under Chapter 7, and accordingly, it won`t be possible to use it to implement ... unilateral military action against Syria."

In other words, any punitive measures would require a new resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter. That means Russia could block any such measures.
France`s foreign minister said on Monday he expects the Security Council to agree on a resolution to enforce the chemical weapons deal with Syria and appeared to back off French calls for the measure to threaten the use of force against Assad.

UN diplomats say it is possible Russia and the Western powers will fail to agree on a draft resolution this week. Russia has already vetoed three resolutions that condemned Assad`s government and threatened it with sanctions.