Sep 26, 2013 3:33 PM by AP (PHOTO COURTESY: MGN ONLINE)
UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The five permanent members of the divided Security Council have reached agreement on key elements of a resolution to require Syria to dismantle its chemical weapons stockpiles, U.N. diplomats said Thursday.
The diplomats said 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. They spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations have been private.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were set to meet in hastily scheduled, closed-door talks on Thursday afternoon at the United Nations in an effort to overcome the lingering differences, officials said.
The diplomats' comments came a day after Russia's deputy foreign minister said negotiators had overcome a major hurdle and agreed that the resolution would include a reference to Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows for military and nonmilitary actions to promote peace and security.
White House spokesman Jay Carney wouldn't confirm that an agreement on a resolution had been reached.
"We have made good progress," Carney said. "We hope that this will be resolved and the process will move forward quickly."
In Moscow, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov offered to provide troops to guard facilities where Syria's chemical weapons would be destroyed.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters Thursday that a few subjects needed to be refined in the draft resolution but expressed optimism about a deal. "Things have advanced," he told reporters.
Fabius said Wednesday he thought the five veto-wielding permanent Security Council members - the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France - known as the P-5 would agree on a text on Thursday or Friday, a prediction echoed by Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov.
The P-5 have been discussing for weeks what to include in a new resolution requiring that Syria's chemical weapons be secured and dismantled. The U.S. and Russia had been at odds on how to enforce the resolution.
The flurry of diplomatic activity is in response to an Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb, and 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, Syria's most important ally, agreed. Kerry and Lavrov signed an agreement in Geneva on Sept. 13.
President Bashar Assad's government quickly accepted the broad proposal, but there have been tough negotiations on how its stockpile will be destroyed.
Gatilov told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the resolution will not include an automatic trigger for measures under Chapter 7, which means the council will have to follow up with another resolution if Syria fails to comply.
Fabius reiterated Thursday that the P-5 had reached agreement on three difficult issues that France 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 Security Council has been paralyzed in dealing with the 2 1/2-year Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 100,000 people, because of differences between Russia and China, who back 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.
But Kerry said Thursday that Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had "strong agreement on the need for a mandatory and binding U.N. Security Council resolution."
The U.S. and Chinese ministers "discussed the value of unity among the P-5, and both felt it is important to act quickly" at their meeting Thursday morning, a U.S. official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the talks.
But, the official added, the Chinese gave no indication about whether they would support a resolution agreed to by the U.S. and Russia.
Work on the resolution continues while the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the body that will be in charge of securing and destroying the stockpile, is 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 Hague-based OPCW said Thursday it was optimistic it could quickly schedule a meeting of its 41-nation executive council to approve a roadmap for swiftly destroying Syrian Assad's chemical arsenal and production facilities.
A U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations have been private, said the executive board of the OPCW isn't likely to meet before Sunday, which means that Security Council adoption of the resolution likely won't take place until next week.
» There are multiple updates to this story. Please click here to get the latest information.