Russia insisted Tuesday that a U.N. Security Council resolution governing Syria’s handling of its chemical weapons not allow the use of force, but it suggested that could change if Damascus reneges on the deal to give up its stockpile.
The main Syrian opposition coalition, meanwhile, urged the international community to take swift action against the regime of President Bashar Assad in response to a U.N. finding that the nerve agent sarin was used in a deadly attack near the capital last month.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said his country “spoke clearly” about rejecting the use of force when the chemical-weapons agreement was worked out Saturday in Geneva between Washington and Moscow. The plan calls for an inventory of Syria’s chemical weapons within a week, with all components of the program out of the country or destroyed by mid-2014.
But if signs emerge that Syria is not fulfilling the agreement or there are reports of further chemical-weapons use, “then the Security Council will examine the situation,” Lavrov said, suggesting the issue could be reconsidered.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said a resolution on the U.S.-Russia deal must be enforceable, telling reporters that the “most effective” way is under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. That deals with threats to international peace and security and has provisions for enforcement by military or non-military means, such as sanctions.
While in principle all Security Council resolutions are legally binding, Ban said, “in reality, we need clear guidelines under Chapter 7.”
Lavrov made his remarks at a news conference in Moscow with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. France and the U.S. say a military option remained on the table, and they are pushing for the U.N. resolution to reflect that.
Diplomats said the five permanent council members — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — made little progress at a meeting Tuesday on a draft resolution and would meet again Wednesday.
On Monday, U.N. inspectors submitted a report on the Aug. 21 chemical-weapons attack near Damascus that deepened the Syrian crisis. It was the first official confirmation by impartial experts that chemical weapons were used in the attack, which killed hundreds.
The report confirmed that chemical weapons were used but did not ascribe blame, and Lavrov and Fabius differed sharply on their interpretations.
“The report exposes the regime,” Fabius said. “On the basis of the information of our external agents, we consider that the report proves the responsibility of the regime for the chemical weapons attack of Aug. 21.”
The U.S., Britain and France said evidence in the report — the type of rockets, the composition of the sarin agent, and trajectory of the missiles — showed that Assad’s government was responsible. The report said surface-to-surface rockets containing sarin were fired from an area where Syria’s military has bases, but said the evidence could have been manipulated in the rebel-controlled neighborhood that was hit.
Russia, a staunch ally of the Syrian regime, disagreed with the West’s conclusions. Lavrov said Moscow has “serious reason to suggest that this was a provocation” by the rebels.
Ban called the report “the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them” against ethnic Kurds in Halabja, Iraq, in 1988.
The main Syrian opposition group, the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition, said the report clearly shows that only the Syrian regime could have carried out the attack, and it urged the U.N. to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.