The United States and Russia agreed a draft UN Security Council resolution 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 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 Friday to try to name a date for a Syria peace conference.
The draft US-Russian resolution, seen by AFP, 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 unauthorized 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. Russia has steadfastly refused to allow any UN sanctions against its ally.
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 Organization 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 Friday then a Security Council vote could be held later in the day, diplomats said.
— US THREAT FORCED BREAKTHROUGH AT UN —
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 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.
Lavrov and Kerry will hold more Syria talks Friday when they meet Ban and the foreign ministers from Britain, France and China for talks on a possible Syria peace conference in Geneva.
Growing divisions within the Syrian opposition have dented hopes of holding the conference. And there are increasing concerns that what started as peaceful protests is becoming an increasingly sectarian and extreme conflict.
Fighters from the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant set fire to statues and crosses inside two churches in the northern city of Raqa. They also destroyed a cross on a church clock tower, replacing it with their flag, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Meanwhile an Iraqi woman was killed and three others wounded when a mortar hit the Iraqi consulate in Damascus, a diplomat said.
The United Nations has major security concerns about a team of UN experts that resumed the hunt for evidence of other chemical weapon attacks on Thursday.
The team, led by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom, has been given allegations of up to 14 attacks.
“This will be a very quick mission; they will only be in Syria a few days,” a UN official said, without disclosing their movements for security reasons.