12 Sep 2013

Diplomats work on Syrian chemical stockpile

12:09 pm on 12 September 2013

Diplomats have begun working on plans to place Syria's chemical stockpile under international control.

A French resolution to the United Nations Security Council lost traction earlier this week, but a plan between Russia and the United States may be in the works.

Envoys of the five permanent UN Security Council members are meeting in New York to discuss a Russian plan for making safe Syria's chemical weapons.

US, UK and French diplomats held separate talks before the meeting of the so-called P5 envoys.

The French have already been working on a draft resolution that would be enforced by Chapter VII of the UN charter, which would in effect sanction the use of force if Syria failed in its obligations.

But Russia has already indicated that this would be unacceptable, as would any resolution blaming the Syrian government for chemical attacks.

The US holds the Syrian government responsible for such an attack in Damascus on 21 August, saying it killed 1429 people. The Syrian government blames the attack on rebels.

The BBC reports that the UK, US and France are eager to frame a binding resolution but Russia prefers a non-binding declaration.

Bi-lateral talks

Russia and the US will hold key bilateral talks in Geneva on Thursday.

Syria has backed Russia's plan to place the chemical arms under international control. The US says it will hold off military strikes to pursue diplomacy.

Russia said earlier that it had now sent the US details of its plans.

More than 100,000 people have died in Syria since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011.

Even without President Obama's uphill struggle to win over the US Congress and people, there's a strong feeling in the region that the psychological moment was lost in the few days after Parliament took Britain out of the picture on 29 August.

The head of steam that seemed to herald an imminent attack has dissipated, and it is hard to imagine it being recreated.

"If they had hit then, when the moment was hot, they might have got away with it in terms of repercussions," said one diplomat. "But to come back cold, weeks later, would be something else."

Syrian rebels had been poised to exploit an American blow by trying to advance. Now they've suffered the double disappointment of seeing Mr Obama mired in domestic woes and then seizing the lifeline thrown by the Russian initiative, dismissed by the opposition coalition as a trick to win time.

Mr Obama has also made it clear throughout that he was not pushing for regime change, more cold water for rebel hopes. The chemical weapons crisis has not stopped the conflict grinding on in almost all parts of the country, with about 100 people killed daily and no end in sight.

On the ground, the Syrian army is trying to retake the Christian town of Maaloula. The BBC reports that heavy fighting continued throughout Wednesday. Maaloula was overrun by rebel forces, including members of the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front, the previous weekend

The latest report by UN rights experts, released on Wednesday, says torture and rape are widespread and war crimes are being committed by both sides

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the UN and its members must share a "heavy burden" for their "collective failure to prevent atrocity crimes in Syria"

The UK-based pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an air strike on a field hospital in Aleppo province had killed at least 11 people

The P5 envoys may discuss the wording of a possible resolution, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry are scheduled to meet in Geneva on Thursday for more formal discussions of the proposal.

They spoke by telephone on Wednesday.

One diplomat told the BBC that the UN envoys' talks were largely symbolic and that the serious questions would be left for Geneva.