U.N. Security Council set to vote on Syria chemical arms resolution
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council is set to adopt a resolution on Friday on eradicating Syria's chemical arsenal after Russia and the United States overcame a bitter deadlock to avert U.S. military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.
Amid newfound unity of the veto-wielding council members - Russia, China, France, the United States and Britain - French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he hoped a date would also be agreed on Friday for so-called Geneva 2 peace talks on Syria.
"I hope we will be able to set a date so that Geneva 2 can finally take place because the only solution is political. We moved forward on the chemical side but people are continuing to kill each other on the ground," Fabius told reporters.
The five big U.N. powers are due to meet Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and international Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi on Friday on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly. Diplomats said if a date was set for the peace talks in Geneva, it would likely be November, as October appeared too ambitious.
U.N. diplomats said the full 15-member Security Council was expected to vote on the chemical weapons resolution at 8 p.m. (0000 GMT) on Friday. It will also be the first time the council formally endorses a plan for a political transition in Syria agreed at an international conference in Geneva in June 2012.
U.S. President Barack Obama said the draft U.N. resolution was a "potentially huge victory for the international community" and described it as legally binding, verifiable and enforceable.
A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the resolution deflected attention from Obama's wavering on the Syrian conflict. "For the U.S., this resolution turns the attention away from its powerlessness," he said.
Assad agreed to destroy Syria's chemical weapons following global outrage over a sarin gas attack in the Damascus suburbs last month - the world's deadliest chemical attack in 25 years.
Western powers blame Assad, while Assad's government and its close ally, Russia, say the rebels were responsible.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia continued to work "energetically" to help convene Syria peace talks.
"People continue to die and peaceful civilians suffer every day in Syria," he told the U.N. General Assembly. "Virtually the only possibility today to put an end to this turmoil is to move from a deadlock to the process of political settlement of the Syrian crisis."
As a precursor to the U.N. vote, the 41-member Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons approved a decision in The Hague on Friday laying out procedures to rapidly verify and destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. The decision will see inspectors sent to Syria starting Tuesday.
The five big U.N. powers ended weeks of diplomatic deadlock on Thursday by agreeing to the draft Security Council resolution - based on a deal reached by Moscow and Washington earlier this month - that demands Syria give up its chemical weapons.
Until recently, the council has been paralyzed on how to deal with the Syrian civil war. Russia, backed by China, has vetoed three resolutions since October 2011 that would have condemned Assad's government and threatened it with sanctions.
Western powers on the Security Council conceded they had backed away from many of their initial demands during negotiations. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov claimed a victory, saying Moscow had stood its ground on opposing any threats of military force against Syria.
A major sticking point had been Russia's opposition to writing the resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, which covers its authority to enforce its decisions with measures such as sanctions or military force.
The compromise draft resolution makes the measure legally binding, but provides for no means of automatic enforcement if Syria fails to comply, as the United States, Britain and France originally wanted.
"No concessions have been made," Ryabkov told Voice of Russia radio. "The main thing is that the automatic use of Chapter 7 has been ruled out."
France's Fabius told reporters, "We shall see in the coming days and weeks if the Russians are really coherent with what they proposed and the vote ... we will need to be vigilant on the action or inaction of Syria."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power described the draft resolution as "very significant" because, when adopted, it would be the first time during the conflict that the council had imposed binding obligations on Assad.
"Taking chemical weapons away from a regime that just used chemical weapons ... is a very intense form of accountability," Power said on Thursday. "I don't think anybody can discount the role that the threat of limited military action played in expediting and catalyzing this conversation."
Obama has asked Congress to authorize the use of limited military strikes to punish Assad for the Damascus gas attack. The deal between Russia and the United States to rid Syria of its chemical weapons averted those strikes for now.
British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said he was pleased the draft resolution called for "accountability" for those responsible for the chemical attacks. He added, however, that he would have liked a reference to the International Criminal Court in The Hague - something diplomats said Russia opposed.
To impose further measures, like sanctions or military action, on the Syrian government for non-compliance with the chemical weapons deal, the Security Council would need to agree on a second resolution.
The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed in the civil war, after the government tried to crush pro-democracy protests, and more than half of Syria's 20 million people need help.
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