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US, Russia break deadlock on Syria chemical arms

Update: September, 27/2013 - 11:59

UNITED NATIONS – The United States and Russia agreed a draft UN Security Council resolution on Thursday on destroying Syria's chemical weapons, breaking a prolonged deadlock over the country's conflict.

The 15-member council held its first talks on the text late on Thursday and a vote could be held on Friday, diplomats said.

If agreed, the resolution would be the first passed by the panel on Syria since the conflict – which the UN says has killed more than 100,000 people – started in March 2011.

The United Nations has also called ministers from the major powers to a meeting on Friday to try to name a date for a Syria peace conference.

The draft US-Russian resolution does not propose immediate measures over a chemical attack in a Damascus suburb a month ago. But it allows for possible sanctions – after a new vote – if there are breaches of a disarmament plan.

The text says the council "decides in event of non-compliance with this resolution, including unauthorised 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."

It says the council would "promptly" consider measures if the world chemical weapons watchdog or UN leader Ban Ki-moon report a breach of a Russia-US disarmament plan.

Chapter VII can allow sanctions or military force. But diplomats said there would have to be a new vote for any action and predicted there would be a fierce new debate with Russia, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's last major backer.

Any action would be "proportionate to the gravity of the violation", Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency as he welcomed the draft resolution.

Russia and China have vetoed three Western-proposed resolutions that sought to increase pressure on Assad.

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

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

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius still called the proposed resolution "a step forward" and added "we are satisfied".

The resolution accord was announced after new talks between Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

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

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

If the OPCW executive council, based in The Hague, approves the disarmament plan on Friday then a Security Council vote could be held later in the day, diplomats said.

Lavrov and Kerry agreed a plan to put Syrian chemical arms under international control after the United States threatened a military strike against Syria over an August 21 chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus.

The two met again on Thursday to seal the accord on the UN resolution.

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

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