By Lesley Wroughton
WASHINGTON, Sept 19 (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday it was essential that a Russia-U.S. deal on eradicating Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal be enforced and that the U.N. Security Council act on it next week when its members meet in New York.
“The Security Council must be prepared to act next week,” Kerry told reporters. “It is vital for the international community to stand up and speak out in the strongest possible terms about the importance of enforcible action to rid the world of Syria’s chemical weapons.”
Envoys from the five big U.N. powers have been meeting in New York for several days to negotiate a draft resolution to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control.
Russia and the United States brokered the deal last week to avoid possible U.S. military strikes. Under the deal, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would account for his chemical weapons within a week and see them destroyed by the middle of next year.
Kerry said there was little doubt that the Aug. 21 gas attack on civilians outside Damascus was the work of Assad’s forces and not of the opposition.
Russia, which holds veto power in the Security Council, has said there is no proof that Assad’s forces were responsible and denounced findings in a U.N. report that confirmed that the nerve gas sarin was used in the attack.
“We really don’t have time today to pretend that anyone can have their own set of facts approaching the issue of chemical weapons in Syria,” Kerry said. “This fight about Syria’s chemical weapons is not a game. It’s real. It’s important,” he added.
Earlier on Thursday, Kerry met his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, at the State Department where Syria was discussed.
He acknowledged differences between Washington and Beijing over how the international community should respond to the chemical weapons issue.
“With negotiations ongoing at the Security Council, we look forward to China playing a positive, constructive important role,” Kerry added.
Wang welcomed the recent U.S.-Russia deal, but said there needed to be a quick decision on how to proceed. “We believe that there needs to be early agreement ... and at the same time, the Security Council of the United Nations also needs to recognize and support this decision,” he said. “Ultimately, the issue of Syria needs to be resolved through political means.”
Russia and China have blocked three U.N. resolutions meant to pressure Assad during Syria’s civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people since 2011.
Kerry also said that recent comments by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who said on Wednesday his government would never develop nuclear weapons, were positive, but cautioned that “everything needs to be put to the test.”
The Obama administration has said it is open to direct talks between Iran and the United States, but only if Tehran is serious about getting rid of its nuclear weapons program.
With world leaders gathering in New York next week for the U.N. General Assembly, speculation has grown that Obama and the Iranian president might have an encounter of some type during the meetings.
“The world has heard a lot from President Rouhani’s administration about its desire to improve Iran’s relations with the international community, and President Obama and the secretary believe we should test that assertion,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters.
“We must see concrete action to back up their rhetoric,” she said, noting that Iran’s release of prominent human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh was an encouraging sign.