Diplomats move on 2 fronts on Syria weapons
CORRECTS SPELLING TO HAIDAR, NOT HAIDER- Ali Haidar, the Syrian Minister for Reconciliation Affairs, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Damascus, Syria on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. Cabinet minister Ali Haidar said Syrias acceptance of a Russian initiative to relinquish its chemical weapons is a sign of strength and that by agreeing to the proposal, Syria has taken away one of the pretexts for war against Syria although he says the threat of foreign military action remains. (AP Photo)
French Army Chief of Staff Adm. Edouard Guillaud arrives for a defense council at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Wednesday, Sept. 11 2013. An emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Syria was canceled Wednesday as France, Russia and the United States appeared set to spar over a draft proposal, shortly after Syria said it was ready to sign a chemical weapons treaty. France had prepared a UN resolution demanding Syria dismantle its chemical weapons programme and including military action if Syria failed to comply. (AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2006 file photo, Vladimir Putin, Russian President, right, and his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad smile as they shake hands in Moscow's Kremlin. In a few days' worth of opportunistic diplomacy, Vladimir Putin has revived memories of an era many thought long gone, where the United States and Soviet Union jostled for influence in a Middle East torn between two powers. Whatever happens with its proposal to relieve Syria of chemical weapons, Russia reemerges as a player in the region _ and one who does not easily abandon allies. That's meaningful in a region where America's dumping of Hosni Mubarak has emerged as a seminal moment _ and it may resonate with Iran, whose leaders are carefully watching the global chessboard as the clock ticks toward another showdown, over their nuclear program.(AP photo/RIA Novosti, Mikhail Klimentyev, Presidential Press service, File)
FILE - In this June 18, 2012, file photo President Barack Obama and Russias President Vladimir Putin, left, go to shake hands during their bilateral meeting at the G20 Summit in Los Cabos, Mexico. In a few days' worth of opportunistic diplomacy, Vladimir Putin has revived memories of an era many thought long gone, where the United States and Soviet Union jostled for influence in a Middle East torn between two powers. Whatever happens with its proposal to relieve Syria of chemical weapons, Russia reemerges as a player in the region _ and one who does not easily abandon allies. That's meaningful in a region where America's dumping of Hosni Mubarak has emerged as a seminal moment _ and it may resonate with Iran, whose leaders are carefully watching the global chessboard as the clock ticks toward another showdown, over their nuclear program.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
President Barack Obama addresses the nation in a live televised speech from the East Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. President Obama blended the threat of military action with the hope of a diplomatic solution as he works to strip Syria of its chemical weapons. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)
Key international players were moving on two diplomatic fronts yesterday to try to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and a fresh effort appeared to be under way to get the government and opposition to peace talks.
The five veto-wielding members of the Security Council, who have been deeply divided over Syria, met late yesterday to discuss what to include in a new resolution requiring that Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile be secured and dismantled. They later left Russia’s U.N. mission without commenting.
At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were heading to Geneva with teams of experts for broader-ranging talks today about the nuts and bolts of putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and destroying them, diplomats said.
The U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, was also heading to Geneva to be available to meet Kerry and Lavrov, whose efforts to start peace talks to end the 2½-year Syrian conflict have been stymied by a government offensive and a deadly suspected poison gas attack Aug. 21.
The diplomatic flurry follows the threat of U.S. strikes against President Bashar Assad’s regime and a surprise offer from Kerry that Syria could avert U.S. military action by turning over “every single bit of his chemical weapons” to international control within a week. Russia, Syria’s most important ally, and Assad’s government quickly agreed on the broad proposal, but details still need to be worked out.
A senior U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because contacts have been private, said today’s meeting between Kerry and Lavrov will be an exploratory session to gauge whether they can embark on “the herculean task” of dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons while the country is at war.
While serious differences have already emerged – especially on whether a U.N. resolution should be militarily enforceable as the United States and its Western allies are demanding – the diplomatic moves represent the first major effort in more than a year to try to get supporters of the Syrian government and opposition on the same page.
Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to end the conflict, which has left the United Nation’s most powerful body paralyzed as the war escalates and the death toll surpasses 100,000. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this week called the council’s paralysis embarrassing.
“What the secretary-general has been pressing for is the Security Council to come to a united decision,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said yesterday. “It’s crucially important at this late stage of the war that they come together and take some action that can prevent both the problems regarding the use of chemical weapons and the wider problem of solving this conflict.”
The White House said yesterday it is not putting a timeline on a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Syria, though Press Secretary Jay Carney said putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, “will take some time.”
France has proposed a draft resolution that demands Syria’s chemical weapons be put under international control and dismantled. It also condemns the Aug. 21 chemical attack the Obama administration says killed 1,400 people and calls for the perpetrators to be sent to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. Submitted under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, which makes it enforceable militarily, it warns of “very serious consequences” if Syria does not comply.
Lavrov immediately rejected any resolution under Chapter 7 and proposed a weaker presidential statement instead, a move rejected by the U.S., Britain and France.
A French official close to President Francois Hollande said Russia objected not only to making the resolution militarily enforceable, but also to blaming the alleged chemical attack on the Syrian government and demanding that those responsible be taken before the International Criminal Court, the world’s permanent war crimes tribunal.
Lavrov said Moscow had already handed over to the U.S. its plan for putting Syria’s chemical arsenal under international control, according to comments carried by the Inter-fax news agency. He gave no details, but said he would discuss the proposal with Kerry today.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said yesterday that Kerry is also scheduled to meet Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy, and Lavrov was expected to do so as well, U.N. officials said.
Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn, whose country is on the Security Council, told Germany’s Deutschlandfunk radio that he expects the report from the chemical weapons inspectors who investigated the Aug. 21 attack next Monday. The U.N.’s Haq said he could not confirm the date for the report which will address whether chemical weapons were used – not who was responsible.