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Friday, September 27, 2013

U.N. reaches deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons; U.S. and Iran open talks 09-27

U.N. reaches deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons; U.S. and Iran open talks

The U.N. Security Council’s five permanent members reached an agreement Thursday to push through a resolution calling for the swift elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, a key development in fast-paced day of diplomacy that also featured the highest-level U.S.-Iranian meeting in years.

While questions remained Thursday night about specific language the Security Council will adopt toward Syria, the Obama administration said there had been a “breakthrough” after “hard-fought diplomacy” geared toward bolstering the deal struck between the U.S. and Russia to persuade embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad to give up his chemical weapons stockpile.

“The Russians have agreed to support a strong, binding and enforceable resolution that unites the pressure and focus of the international community on the Syrian regime to ensure the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons,” the administration said in a statement.

At the same time, Secretary of State John F. Kerry met with his Iranian counterpart Thursday and, according to Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the two men and several other great-power diplomats agreed to try for a swift end to the lengthy standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program. Diplomats all around praised the new tone in the meeting, compared with the often belligerent rhetoric of past Iranian officials.

Force against Syria?

What was unclear on the Syria resolution was whether it will specifically threaten military action if Damascus does not comply — something the Obama administration sought heading into U.N. negotiations this week but which Russia, Syria’s patron for decades stretching back into the Soviet era, has consistently rejected.

The statement circulated by the White House on Thursday night said only that the resolution will make “absolutely clear that the failure of the Assad regime to comply will have consequences.”

Asserting that forces loyal to Mr. Assad carried out last month’s horrific chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, the Obama administration spent recent days pushing for the “binding” resolution that would leave the door open for a military strike on Syria.

But Russia, which has declared that there is no proof tying Mr. Assad and his military to the Aug. 21 attack and has blamed the Islamist-backed rebels for the attack, has resisted the inclusion of such a threat in any security council resolution, most recently in words Wednesday from Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov.

Winning over Moscow

Since then, some Western diplomatic sources have suggested that the final Security Council resolution likely would include a careful language workaround designed to appease both Russia and the U.S.

Under the terms of the resolution being negotiated, according to media reports, if Syria does not comply with international operatives in destroying its chemical weapons, the Security Council would meet again to vote on whether to adopt a second resolution that could include the threat of a military strike.

However, such language would leave the door open for a Russian veto in that event.

For more than two years, the Security Council has been paralyzed over Syria — with Russia and China consistently backing the Assad government, while the U.S., Britain and France have, to varying degrees, supported opposition groups fighting for Mr. Assad’s ouster.

Russia and China have vetoed three proposed Western-backed resolutions that the U.S. had pushed in hopes of pressuring Mr. Assad to end the violence in his nation.

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