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US, Russia agree landmark UN resolution on Syria

US State Secretary John Kerry (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talk at the UN General Assembly in New York, September 24, 2013
US State Secretary John Kerry (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talk at the UN General Assembly in New York, September 24, 2013.

The United States and Russia on Thursday agreed the outline of a draft UN Security Council resolution on destroying Syria's chemical weapons, officials said.

While the resolution does not propose immediate measures over a chemical attack near Damascus one month ago, it allows for eventual sanctions if there are breaches of a disarmament plan, diplomats said.

The 15-member Security Council was called to a meeting at 8:00pm (0000 GMT) for first discussions on the text.

No date for a vote has been set. But if agreed, the resolution would be the first to be passed by the council since the start of the Syria conflict in March 2011.

A UN expert arrives to get in a vehicle before leaving an hotel in the Syrian capital Damascus on September 26, 2013
A UN expert arrives to get in a vehicle before leaving an hotel in the Syrian capital Damascus on September 26, 2013.

The accord was announced after new talks between Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry on Syria. Neither gave details of the text.

Lavrov told reporters "an understanding" with the United States had been reached on a draft resolution and a disarmament plan which must be approved by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

Kerry said the international community "can now move forward and give life hopefully to the removal and destruction of chemical weapons from Syria."

Russia, which with China has vetoed three western proposed resolutions that sought to increase pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, has steadfastly refused to allow any UN sanctions over the war.

But a US threat of a military strike after an August 21 chemical weapon attack forced Russia and the West to overcome their differences.

The United States blames Assad's forces for the attack, which it says saw more than 1,400 people gassed to death. The Syrian government, and Russia, have blamed opposition rebels.

After Lavrov and Kerry agreed a disarmament blueprint to head off the threatened US military strike it took two weeks of tense negotiations to agree the resolution.

"This is a breakthrough arrived at through hard-fought diplomacy," said a senior US official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"This is historic and unprecedented because it puts oversight of the Assad regime's compliance under international control."

A draft of the new resolution, seen by AFP, states that the council would take sanctions action if a breach of a Russia-US plan to disarm Assad's poison arms is reported.

The draft says rhe council "decides in event of non-compliance with this resolution, including unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Arab Republic, to impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter."

So, though no immediate action would be allowed, the UN Security Council would have to take some measures if the OPCW or UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon reports a breach of the disarmament plan, analysts said.

Chapter VII of the UN Charter can allow sanctions or military force. But diplomats said that there would have to be a new vote for any action and predicted there would be a fierce new debate with Russia, Assad's last major backer.

The resolution says only that the Security Council would "promptly" consider any reported breach.

European nations had also wanted the Syria conflict referred to the International Criminal Court.

But the draft resolution says only that the council "expresses strong conviction that those individuals responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria should be held accountable."

Thursday's meeting will only be the first talks on the resolution but with Russia and the United States behind the text it is certain to be passed "very soon," diplomats said.

The OPCW executive council will have to meet first to approve the disarmament plan. Diplomats said the Security Council vote will then make the plan binding under international law.

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