Russia expects Syria resolution in next two days

The UN Security Council, long paralysed by deep divisions over how to deal with the Syrian conflict, is about two days away from agreeing on a resolution to require Damascus to dismantle its chemical weapons stockpiles, Russia's deputy foreign minister said.

Gennady Gatilov told The Associated Press that the text of the resolution will include a reference to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which allows for military and non-military actions to promote peace and security.

But he stressed that there will not be an automatic trigger for such measures, which means the council will have to follow up with another resolution if Syria fails to comply.

The US and Russia had been at odds on how to enforce the resolution. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met for nearly 90 minutes late Tuesday at the United Nations, and American officials said that while there had been progress in some areas, they couldn't agree on the text, which the US had been insisting be enforceable.

President Barack Obama's threatened US strikes against President Bashar Assad's regime following an August 21 suspected poison gas attack has led to a flurry of diplomatic activity. Kerry made a surprise offer that Syria could avert US 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.

Kerry and Lavrov then signed an agreement in Geneva on September 14, but it has taken time and tough negotiations to work out the details.

The five permanent veto-wielding members of the Security Council - the US, Russia, China, Britain and France - known as the P-5 have been discussing for the past few weeks what to include in a new resolution requiring that Syria's chemical weapons stockpile be secured and dismantled. The council has been blocked on Syria, with Russia and China vetoing three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to end the violence which has killed over 100,000 people.

But Gatilov told AP the negotiations are "going quite well" and the draft resolution should be finalized "very soon - within the next two days, I think."

As for Chapter 7, he said, "It will be mentioned but there is the understanding, of course, (that) there is no automaticity in engaging Chapter 7."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius agreed that there are still "a few details to solve, but I think we shall reach a common resolution, maybe today, or tomorrow".

"I'm pretty optimistic because there were three elements which were a bit difficult, really difficult," he told students at Columbia University on Wednesday evening.

"The first one was to include a sentence which would say that the use of chemical weapons everywhere, particularly in Syria, were crimes" that the Security Council can address, Fabius said. "That is accepted."

The second was the Chapter 7 issue, and France proposed using the same wording that is in the US-Russian agreement reached in Geneva, he said, "and this, too, has been accepted."

That agreement said the US and Russia concur that a Security Council resolution should provide for a regular review of Syria's implementation, "and in the event of non-compliance ... or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter".

Fabius said the third issue "is to say that there is accountability of people who have committed this sort of crime, and it is accepted".

Britain's UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant also reported progress.

"But there are still some differences," he told AP. "We hope to be able to iron them out, maybe even today, but certainly in the next few days."

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity because negotiations are continuing, said the two sides were "very, very close" and the US "fully expects to have a resolution by the end of the week".

Work on the UN resolution is going on at the same time as the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the body that will be in charge of securing and destroying the arms, is working on its own document to lay 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 Security Council is scheduled to meet Thursday and Friday, with many ministers attending the UN General Assembly present, and diplomats had hoped to be able to approve the Syria resolution this week.

But a UN 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.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called Syria's decision to abandon its chemical weapons "promising" but stressed that the elimination of chemical weapons is not a solution to the Syrian conflict, where most people have been killed by other weapons including air bombardment, artillery, tanks and snipers.

France's Fabius agreed that a new resolution "doesn't solve the problem of Syria, but it's a step".

- AP

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