The five permanent members of the deeply divided United Nations Security Council reached agreement Thursday on a resolution to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons, a major step in taking the most controversial weapon off the battlefield of the world's deadliest current conflict.
Senior U.S., Russian, British and French diplomats confirmed the agreement, which also includes China. The full 15-member Security Council met behind closed doors Thursday night, and Britain's UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said he would introduce the text there.
A vote on the resolution still depends on how the full council responds to the draft, and on how soon an international group that oversees the global treaty on chemical weapons can adopt a plan for securing and destroying Syria's stockpile. Diplomats said the earliest the Security Council could vote would be late Friday.
Enforcement measures unclear
Both Lyall Grant and a senior U.S. State Department official described the draft resolution as "binding and enforceable."
But the draft resolution, seen by The Associated Press, makes clear that there is no trigger for enforcement measures if Syria fails to comply. Instead, it states that the Security Council will "impose measures under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter," which will require a second resolution.
Chapter 7 allows for military and nonmilitary actions to promote peace and security. Russia, Syria's most powerful ally, had opposed any reference to it. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held hastily scheduled talks Thursday afternoon to resolve several last-minute disputes on the text.
The Security Council has long been paralyzed in dealing with the 2½ year Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 100,000 people and spilled over the country's borders, because of differences between Russia and China, who back Syrian President Bashar al-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.
The recent flurry of diplomatic activity followed the Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb, and by 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 quickly agreed. Kerry and Lavrov signed an agreement in Geneva on Sept. 13 to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control for later destruction, and Assad's government accepted.
Tough negotiations, primarily between Russia and the United States, followed on how Syria's stockpile would be destroyed.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power tweeted Thursday evening that the draft resolution establishes that Syria's chemical weapons "is threat to international peace & security & creates a new norm against the use of CW."
While the Security Council considers the draft resolution, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the Hague-based body that will be in charge of securing and destroying the stockpile, was working on its own document to set out its exact duties.
The UN resolution will include the text of the OPCW's declaration and make it legally binding, so the OPCW must act first. The OPCW said Thursday it was optimistic it could quickly schedule a meeting of its 41-nation executive council to approve its plan.
Draft endorses political transition
Russia's Lavrov said the draft resolution follows the language of the U.S.-Russia agreement reached in Geneva.
That agreement did not have an automatic Chapter 7 trigger for enforcement — meaning, as France's UN Ambassador Gerard Araud confirmed Thursday, that a second resolution will be needed if Syria violates the resolution's provisions.
The draft resolution for the first time would make a determination that "use of chemical weapons anywhere constitutes a threat to international peace and security."
It would ban Syria from possessing chemical weapons and condemn "in the strongest terms" the use of chemical weapons in the Aug. 21 attack, and any other use. It also would ban any country from obtaining chemical weapons or the technology or equipment to produce them from Syria.
The draft authorizes the UN to send an advance team to assist the OPCW's activities in Syria. It asks Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to submit recommendations to the Security Council within 10 days of the resolution's adoption on the UN role in eliminating Syria's chemical weapons program.
The council would review compliance with the OPCW's plans within 30 days, and every month after that.
Some Western countries had wanted the draft to demand that the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks be referred to the International Criminal Court to be prosecuted for war crimes. Diplomats said this was discussed but Russia objected.
As a result, the draft says only that the Security Council "expresses its strong conviction that those individuals responsible for the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic should be held accountable."
The draft resolution is much stronger on the call for a political transition in Syria. It endorses the roadmap for a political transition adopted last year in Geneva by key nations and calls for an international conference to be convened "as soon as possible" to implement it. It calls on "all Syrian parties to engage seriously and constructively" at a new Geneva conference and be committed "to the achievement of stability and reconciliation."
The roadmap for a political transition ends with elections, but there has been no agreement on how to implement it, which would require Assad to relinquish power at some point.