Russia, US reach 'understanding' on Syria chemical weapons resolution

Agreement could clear way for international action on removing Syria's chemical arms

A U.N. chemical weapons expert, wearing a gas mask, holds a plastic bag containing samples from one of the sites of a chemical attack in the Ain Tarma neighborhood of Damascus, Aug. 29, 2013.
Mohamed Abdullah/Reuters

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that Russia and the United States have reached an "understanding" on a draft of a United Nations Security Council resolution to deal with Syria's chemical weapons stockpile after a weeks-long diplomatic impasse over how to internationally confront the use of chemical weapons against Syrians.

Samantha Power, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., confirmed the agreement via her Twitter account. "The draft UNSCR establishes that #Syria's use of CW (chemical weapons) is threat to international peace & security & creates a new norm against the use of CW," her official account said.

On Friday, U.N. diplomats suggested that the Security Council intended to meet that evening to discuss the resolution.

The U.S. and Russia have been at odds for weeks over what to do about the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and the agreement clears the way for a vote by the entire Security Council. 

According to Power's Twitter account, the resolution sets a precedent against the use of chemical weapons and requires Syria to give up its stockpile.

Early Friday, Reuters reported that chemical weapons experts are expected to start inspections of Syrian stockpiles by Tuesday.

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"This is a breakthrough arrived at through hard-fought diplomacy," a senior State Department official told Al Jazeera. The official called the resolution "binding" and "enforceable" and said that the "failure of (Bashar al-Assad's) regime to comply will have consequences."

But the draft resolution makes clear that there is no trigger for any enforcement measures if Syria fails to comply with the provisions of the resolution or the dismantling of its chemical weapons. Instead, it states that in the event of noncompliance or use of chemical weapons, the Security Council will "impose measures under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter," which would require a second resolution.

Chapter 7 allows for military and nonmilitary actions to promote peace and security. Russia and China have opposed any reference to it since the conflict in Syria began. Secretary of State John Kerry and Lavrov met in hastily scheduled, closed-door talks Thursday afternoon to resolve several last-minute disputes over the text, and the agreement was announced soon afterward.

Syria recently met a deadline to disclose details about its chemical arsenal -- a result of an earlier deal brokered between the U.S. and Russia that averted military intervention in the country. Syria is believed to have about 1,000 tons of toxins for use in chemical weapons.

The Security Council has long been paralyzed in dealing with Syria's two-and-a-half-year conflict -- which has killed more than 100,000 people and spilled over its borders -- because of differences between Russia and China, which back Assad's government, and the U.S., Britain and France, which support the opposition. Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to end the violence.

U.N. chemical weapons investigators confirmed on Sept. 16 the use of sarin gas in Syria in an Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus. The Syrian opposition says the attack claimed the lives of at least 1,100 people, including children.          

President Barack Obama previously said the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a "red line," prompting the U.S. to threaten military intervention in the country's ongoing civil war.

A flurry of international diplomacy commenced after U.S. navy ships -- capable of missile strikes against Syria -- arrived in the Mediterranean Sea and Obama asked Congress to approve military intervention in the country, leading to the U.S.-Russian agreement on destroying the chemical weapons and the U.N. resolution.

Dexter Mullins contributed to this report. With Al Jazeera and wire services.

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