UNITED NATIONS/DAMASCUS – The five permanent members of the UN security council
have reached an agreement over the wording of a “binding and enforceable” resolution to eliminate Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons.
British and US officials announced the breakthrough after a fast-moving day of diplomacy on the margins of the United Nations general assembly in New York.
But the agreement does not authorise the use of force if Syria does not comply the sticking point that had prevented diplomatic progress on the conflict.
The British ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, said in a post on Twitter that the five permanent members of the security council Britain, France, the US, Russia and China agreed on a “binding and enforceable draft” of a resolution.
He said the text would be introduced to the 10 other members of the security council at a meeting later.
The development was announced after hastily convened talks between the US secretary of state, John Kerry, and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.
If the resolution is adopted, it would be the first legally binding resolution on the Syrian conflict.
US officials said the deal was significant. The administration, in a statement attributed to a state department official, said it was “historic and unprecedented”.
The statement said: “This is a breakthrough arrived at through hard-fought diplomacy. Just two weeks ago, no one thought this was in the vicinity of possible.”
However, in order to get the agreement, the US had to concede that the wording of the resolution would not fall under chapter 7 of the UN charter, which allows it to be enforced by military action.
Neither did the resolution ascribe blame for the 21 August chemical attack that killed hundreds of people in a Damascus suburb, and which prompted the latest crisis.
As part of the deal, Russia agreed to send troops to Syria to guard sites where chemical weapons are to be destroyed.
A vote in the 15-member Council could take place later on Friday, diplomats at the UN in New York said.
The agreement breaks a two-and-a-half year deadlock in the UN over Syria.
It is seen as a key step in a US-Russia brokered plan earlier this month under which Syria agreed to disclose its arsenal and eliminate it by mid-2014.
Russia and China have three times blocked Western-backed resolutions in the Security Council against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The council discussed the draft resolution on Thursday evening at the UN headquarters.
The US – backed by France and the UK – had pushed for a resolution carrying the threat of military action. Russia had opposed this. The five nations are permanent veto-wielding members of the council.
But a deal was struck on Thursday.
The US Ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, tweeted: “Agreement reached w/Russia on UNSC [UN Security Council] Resolution legally obligating Syria to give up CW [chemical weapons] they used on their people. Going to full UNSC tonight.”
She added that the draft “establishes that Syria’s use of CW is a threat to international peace and security and creates a new norm against the use of CW”.
British envoy Sir Mark Lyall Grant also described the document as “binding and enforceable”.
Nevertheless, one senior official at the US state department described the agreement as a “breakthrough”, saying the document “makes absolutely clear that failure of the Assad regime to comply will have consequences”.
US and Russian officials later said a vote on the proposed resolution could take place as early as Friday evening.
Syria is believed to possess mustard gas and sarin, and has also tried to develop more toxic nerve agents such as VX gas.
Syria has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) or ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC)
More than 100,000 people have died since the
Syrian uprising began in 2011.