x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Security Council agree to key elements of Syria resolution

Russia and the United States still negotiating on a handful of unresolved issues but the plan to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons does not lay out specific consequences if Bashar Al Assad’s government fails to comply.

A Free Syrian Army fighter sits in shooting position in a damaged building in Aleppo on Thursday as the rebels continue in their bid to unseat President Bashar Al Assad. Muzaffar Salman / Reuters
A Free Syrian Army fighter sits in shooting position in a damaged building in Aleppo on Thursday as the rebels continue in their bid to unseat President Bashar Al Assad. Muzaffar Salman / Reuters

United Nations // The five permanent members of the UN Security Council on Thursday agreed on the core elements of a resolution requiring Syria to give up its chemical weapons.

Russia and the United States were still negotiating on a handful of unresolved issues, reportedly including details on how the chemical weapons will be destroyed, UN diplomats said yesterday.

But the plan does not lay out specific consequences if Bashar Al Assad’s government fails to comply.

The five Security Council members with veto power – the US, Russia, China, Britain and France – are within days of approving the latest draft resolution put forward on Wednesday, the diplomats said.

The French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said yesterday a few subjects needed to be refined in the draft resolution, but he expressed optimism about a deal.

“Things have advanced,” Mr Fabius said.

The Russian deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, said the draft resolution should be finalised “within the next two days, I think”.

But the Security Council will probably wait until next week before voting to approve the resolution.

It will include the text of a declaration by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the body responsible for securing and destroying the stockpiles, describing its exact role.

The OPCW executive board is unlikely to meet to finalise its own document before Sunday.

Russia and the US have been at loggerheads on how to enforce the UN resolution that will back a framework for Syrian disarmament.

The countries’ foreign ministers hashed out the framework on September 14 in Geneva. The US has insisted on strict enforcement requirements.

Washington pushed for the UN resolution to invoke Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which would permit a response including military action or sanctions if Syria did not comply.

Russia, Syria’s main international ally, has said it would veto any such measures.

But there was an apparent breakthrough after US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, and the other Security Council envoys, met for lunch on Wednesday.

The compromise included in the latest draft resolution, said Mr Gatilov and other diplomats, was that in the event of clearly proven non-compliance, the council would “impose measures” under Chapter 7, but this would require a second UN resolution.

The permanent Security Council members were also reportedly scheduled to meet on Friday to discuss the proposed peace negotiations in Geneva.

Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov have both said they believe the UN resolution will pave the way for the Geneva talks between Mr Al Assad’s government and western-backed political representatives of the rebel opposition.

The US maintains any political settlement must require Mr Al Assad to step down from power, but many fear the chemical weapons deal may leave him even more entrenched.

The UN will need Syrian military assistance in finding and destroying the weapons, and there is little likelihood the US would launch the military action it had threatened then backed away from, if the weapons are relinquished.

Yesterday, Russia offered to provide troops to guard areas where Syria’s chemical weapons would be destroyed.

The legitimacy of the Syrian National Coalition, which the US and its allies hope will replace the Al Assad government, also suffered a serious blow this week, casting further doubt on the Geneva process.

Thousands of rebels from Islamist militias as well as some of the largest Free Syrian Army units, nominally affiliated with the SNC, on Tuesday announced their disassociation from the group.

They said they were forming a new Islamist front that includes Jabhat Al Nusra, which the US has declared a terrorist group.

The new coalition of 13 rebel fighting groups disowned the exile leadership in a video statement by a leader of the Islamist Tawheed Brigade, in which he said Islamic law was the “sole source of legislation”.

The move came after intense fighting between these groups and the Islamic State of Iraq and Lebanon, an Al Qaeda offshoot, for control of areas in the country’s north-east.

tkhan@thenational.ae

* Additional reporting by The Associated Press