France expects UN Council to agree on Syria arms measure

On Chinese TV, Assad criticises US threat of strikes

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (Getty Images)

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (Getty Images)

France's foreign minister said on Monday he expects the UN Security Council to agree on a resolution to enforce the chemical weapons deal with Syria and appeared to back off French calls for the measure to threaten force against President Bashar Al Assad.

Syria's civil war is a top agenda item as world leaders gather this week for the annual UN General Assembly. Envoys from the five big UN powers - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China - have been meeting to negotiate a resolution to back the US-Russian deal reached in Geneva this month to remove Syria's chemical weapons by June 2014.

Some UN diplomats have expressed concern about whether agreement on a resolution is possible in the face of sharp ongoing differences on the Security Council. France has been out front in calling for Assad's government to face punitive measures if it fails to live up to the terms of the agreement, with an initial French draft Security Council resolution calling for issuing an ultimatum to Damascus to comply.

But with Western powers giving up on what UN diplomats call a "trigger" clause for automatic punitive measures in the event of Syrian non-compliance, prospects for an agreement between Russia and the West on a draft resolution may be improving.

UN diplomats told Reuters on condition of anonymity that all discussions on the draft resolution were on hold until a bilateral meeting on Tuesday between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at which Syria will be among the topics of discussion.

Speaking to reporters in New York, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius appeared to confirm France's willingness to accept Russia's demand that the draft resolution not be enforceable under Chapter 7.

According to the Geneva agreement, the Security Council would have to adopt a second resolution in order to punish Syria for any non-compliance with the US-Russian plan to eradicate Syria's chemical arsenal.

"We should take exactly what was foreseen in Geneva. On that basis we should come to an agreement," Fabius said.

The US-Russian deal followed threats by US President Barack Obama to carry out military strikes against Assad's forces in response to an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack on civilians near Damascus.

The United States blames Assad's government and said the sarin gas used in it killed more than 1,400 people. Assad's government blames the rebels for that attack.

Russia and China have blocked three UN resolutions meant to pressure Assad during Syria's civil war, raging since 2011.

Russia accused the West on Sunday of trying to exploit the deal between Moscow and Washington to push through a council resolution issued under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which could authorize sanctions or military intervention if the Syrian government reneges on its commitments.

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