A nearly immediate impasse over a United Nations resolution on removing Syria’s chemical weapons sent American, British and French diplomats into a huddle on Tuesday, as they sought to craft a version stern enough to ensure Syrian compliance without spurring a Russian veto.
Russia rejected France’s initial demand for muscular wording aimed at forcing Syria to hand over the weapons on a deadline and under the threat of force. Moscow canceled a meeting it had called at the Security Council and set the stage for a possible diplomatic standoff.
At issue was French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius’s assertion that France’s proposal would invoke Chapter 7, a clause that allows U.N. member states to use all possible means, including military action, to enforce a resolution.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry rejected the proposal because of the Chapter 7 reference, as well as the suggestion that the resolution would blame the Syrian government for deploying chemical weapons.
Russia, which wields veto power on the Security Council, has blocked previous efforts to pass resolutions aimed at punishing the Assad regime.
A Chapter 7 resolution “leaves open a window or opportunity for military intervention if any country involved in the program feels threatened or attacked,” said Alexandre Vautravers, a military analyst at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy. “For Russia this is not acceptable.”
Two council diplomats said it was too early in the process to know if the threat to authorize force would be included in the U.S.-U.K.-French draft.
The draft would have to be reconciled with any Russian proposal before it could be put to the full 15-member council for a vote. One option for the Western allies would be to dial their resolution back to Chapter 6 of the U.N. charter.
Chapter 6 calls for peaceful settlement of disputes, allowing a call for Syria to eliminate its chemical weapons under international supervision, without a threat of force.
Syria said on Tuesday that it would turn its weapons over to the U.N., Russia and other countries, and would sign on to the international convention banning chemical weapons. It could be hard to enforce compliance, however. President Barack Obama spoke with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande Tuesday morning about Security Council action.
Russia plans to propose a draft declaration of the president of the Security Council that would welcome the initiative to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and call on the U.N. and other agencies to support that work, the Russian foreign ministry said.
Together with the U.S., France has threatened in recent weeks to use force in Syria, saying military strikes would help deter the Assad regime from using chemical weapons against civilians and rebel groups.
Mr. Cameron said on Tuesday that the U.K. would join the U.S. and France in presenting a resolution, and emphasized the urgency of Syrian compliance.
“We need to know that there is a proper timetable,” Mr. Cameron told U.K. lawmakers. “We need to know that there will be a proper process for doing it, and crucially there would have to be consequences if it wasn’t done.”
Russia plans to propose a draft statement of the president of the Security Council that would welcome the initiative to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and call on the U.N. and other agencies to support that work, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
“We see this as an attempt to save the Assad regime,” Monzer Makhous, representative in France of the opposition Syrian National Coalition. Mr. Makhous said France’s push for a tough resolution aimed to deprive the Assad regime of “room for maneuver.”
In Moscow, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Russia’s initiative was aimed at “knocking the legs out from under American aggression,” according to Interfax.
France’s proposal for dismantling the chemical arsenal was expected to face resistance from Moscow, a longtime sponsor of the Assad regime. European diplomats had secretly proposed a similar resolution—invoking Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter—to Moscow weeks ago, according to a French official.
Moscow rejected that proposal, the official said, because Chapter 7 makes the resolution binding, having been used in other conflicts to justify military intervention.
The French official said Paris considered Chapter 7 a nonnegotiable part of the draft resolution.
If Russia and the Western powers fail to agree on a course within the Security Council, Moscow could try to organize the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons independently, inviting international supervision.
Likewise, if the Security Council fails to agree, the U.S. has said it could strike Syria without a Security Council resolution. U.N. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has said military action would only be “lawful” with Security Council authorization.
Russia, which wields veto power on the Security Council, has blocked previous resolutions aimed at punishing the Assad regime.
Russian officials said Tuesday that the idea of placing the Assad regime’s chemical arsenal under international control was “not quite a Russian initiative,” but stemmed from contacts with U.S. diplomats.
In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said he hoped to present an “effective, clear, concrete” plan to the West.
“For this purpose, contacts with the Syrian side are being conducted literally at this minute,” Mr. Lavrov said.
He said the monitoring program would involve the U.N. Secretary General, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, as well as members of the Security Council, which includes the U.S.
China, which has previously joined Russia in blocking U.N. resolutions against the Assad regime, welcomed Russia’s initiative.
“As long as the suggestion will ease tensions in Syria and solves the Syrian issue and safeguards peace in the region, the international community should give positive consideration to it,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said of the proposal at a regular press briefing.