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France, Russia still divided on chemical weapons resolution

January 30, 2014 at 10:44 am

The Russian and French foreign ministers have agreed after their meeting in Moscow on the need to stop the bloodshed in Syria and disable Syria’s chemical weapons.

But the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that he disagreed with his French counterpart Laurent Fabius on how to achieve these goals.

The French Minister said that France supports the American-Russian agreement to disarm and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons as soon as possible and in a safe manner.

But France is seeking to gain support for a UN resolution that would also threaten the Syrian government with serious consequences in the case that it is not committed to the implementation of the Russian-American agreement.

Fabius went to Moscow to persuade Russia to support such a resolution.

But Russia, Syria’s powerful ally, says that the government of President Bashar Al-Assad must first be given the opportunity to give up its chemical weapons before there can be any threat of a punitive military strike.

Nevertheless, Western countries are continuing their diplomatic efforts to adopt a strongly worded resolution by the Security Council on the disarmament of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, after the publication on Monday of the UN inspectors’ report on the 21 August attack in the Damascus suburbs.

In Washington, on Thursday US Secretary of State John Kerry will be receiving his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, whose country has used the veto power in the Security Council three times, along with Moscow, to oppose a resolution against Syria.

On Tuesday the Chinese Foreign Ministry said that the Chinese government would carefully consider the UN investigators’ report that was released on Monday.

The international investigators have said in their report that the nerve gas, Sarin, was used against civilians on a large scale in the suburbs of Damascus last month.

Washington, Paris and London have confirmed, in one voice, that the report of the UN “does not leave room for any doubt” regarding the “very clear” responsibility of President Al-Assad’s regime for the chemical weapons attack that claimed the lives of hundreds in Ghouta, Damascus.

France’s Foreign Minister Fabius explained that the document has a “fatal content”, while UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the use of Sarin gas as a “war crime”, calling for the prosecution of those responsible for the use of this weapon, without naming them directly.

Two days after reaching an agreement with the US on Syrian chemical disarmament, Moscow continues to oppose a UN resolution threatening the Syrian government of the “consequences” in the event of Syria’s non-compliance with its obligations.

Lavrov warned that “if someone wanted to threaten or search for pretexts to launch strikes, this could completely and finally destroy the possibility of convening Geneva 2,” the proposed peace conference to end the Syrian crisis, which the international group has been trying to organize for three months.

A US State Department spokesperson, Mary Harv, confirmed that the military option “remains on the table” for the US, and called for an international resolution that involves “implementation mechanisms that are as strong as possible.”

However there are different interpretations concerning the agreement that was previously reached by the Russians and the Americans. Lavrov argues the Geneva agreement makes no mention of Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which authorizes the use of force, while Kerry suggests the contrary, saying that, “the agreement allows the United States and Russia to impose measures under Chapter VII in the event of Syria’s non-compliance.”

A source in the Syrian foreign ministry said that Damascus has responded to the remarks made on Monday by the foreign ministers of the US, France and the UK by accusing Western countries of seeking to impose their will on the Syrian people, according to the official Syrian news agency SANA.

US President Barack Obama said that “if properly implemented” the Russian-American agreement could put an end to the dangers posed by Syria’s chemical weapons, which he said is not only a threat to Syrians, but also to the whole world.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced on Monday that the programme to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile would begin “within days”.

It seems that the attack on 21 August was not a single, isolated incident. The International Commission of Inquiry on Syria has unveiled the existence of other ongoing investigations into human rights violations in Syria related to 14 different chemical attacks that have occurred since September 2011.