Russia’s proposal on Syrian chemical weapons runs into troubled waters?

Last Updated: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - 14:14

Zee Media Bureau

Washington: The Russian proposal, placing Syrian chemical weapons under international control, has reportedly run in troubled waters after the United States and France reportedly called for a binding UN resolution and penalty in case of non-compliance.

Russia had earlier proposed placing chemical weapons in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime under the control of international community. The solution was welcomed by the US which said that a military strike will then be averted.

But the plan ran aground as the world powers haggled over the crucial element of how to enforce it. Wary of falling into what the French foreign minister called "a trap," Paris and Washington are pushing for a UN Security Council resolution to verify Syria`s disarmament, as per a news agency report.

Russia, a close Assad ally and the regime`s chief patron on the international stage, dismissed France`s proposal as unacceptable on Tuesday.

The dizzying diplomatic maneuvering threatened what had been growing momentum toward a plan that would allow President Barack Obama to back away from military action. Domestic support for a strike is uncertain in the United States, even as Obama seeks Congress` backing for action — and there has been little international appetite to join forces against Assad.

In a nationally televised speech Tuesday night, Obama told war-weary Americans that diplomacy suddenly holds "the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons" in Syria without use of force, but he declared that the US military will "be ready to respond" against Assad if other measures fail.

For now, Obama said he had asked congressional leaders to postpone a vote on legislation he has been seeking to authorize the use of military force against Syria. Obama pledged that any military action would be limited and wouldn`t involve deploying ground combat troops or waging a prolonged air campaign against Syria.

Before departing Moscow in the evening, al-Moallem told Lebanon`s Al-Mayadeen TV that Syria would place its chemical weapons locations in the hands of representatives of Russia, other unspecified countries and the United Nations. Syria will also declare the chemical arsenal it long denied having, stop producing such weapons and sign conventions against them.

Mindful that Damascus could only be seeking to avoid Western military strikes, France said it would put forward a draft resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, making it enforceable with military action.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the French resolution would demand that Syria open its chemical weapons program to inspection, place it under international control, and ultimately dismantle it. A violation of that commitment, he said, would carry "very serious consequences." The resolution would condemn the Aug. 21 attack and bring those responsible to justice, he said.

"We do not want this to be used as a diversion," Fabius said. "It is by accepting these precise conditions that we will judge the credibility of the intentions expressed yesterday."

Obama threw his support behind the French resolution and discussed the matter with French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron. At the same time, he continued to push his original plan to win congressional authorization for US airstrikes against Assad`s regime in case the diplomatic efforts fail.

The US and its allies have insisted Assad must be punished for last month`s chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. The Obama administration, France and others blame the regime, but Damascus says rebels — not its forces — were behind the attack. The US has said more than 1,400 Syrians died; even conservative estimates from international organizations put the toll at several hundred.

Obama cautiously welcomed the initial Russian proposal. But he said the US is still prepared to go ahead with strikes if it falls through.

The Syrian National Coalition, the main Western-backed opposition group, dismissed the Assad government`s turnaround as a maneuver to escape punishment for what it called a crime against humanity. The coalition had been hoping for military strikes from abroad to tip the balance in the war of attrition between rebels and Assad`s forces.

In a statement Tuesday, the Coalition said Moscow`s proposal "aims to procrastinate and will lead to more death and destruction of the Syrian people."

"Crimes against humanity cannot be dropped by giving political concessions or by handing over the weapons used in these crimes," the group said.

(With Agencies Inputs)



First Published: Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - 14:05

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