On Monday, 16 September, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon briefed the UN Security Council on the report of the United Nations mission to investigate allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria. What Mr Ban presented to the Security Council didn’t include any new significant details.
Mr Ban told journalists that the results of a report by UN inspectors confirming the use of chemical weapons in Syria are “overwhelming and indisputable”. He also emphasised that this is the largest chemical attack since Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iran in the 1980-88 war.
“This is a grave crime. Those responsible must be brought to justice and as soon as possible,” Ban told reporters at UN headquarters in New York.
The UN inspections report didn’t identify who is to blame for the chemical attack on 21 August in Syria. But Secretary-General Ban said Friday that the Bashar Al-Assad government has “committed many crimes against humanity”, and that “there will surely be the process of accountability when everything is over.”
While the United States and Russia agreed in Geneva on Saturday — after a tense three-day discussion — on a deal regarding Syria’s chemical weapons, back in Washington some republicans and Al-Assad’s opponents were left disappointed and with a bitter taste. The agreement between Russia and the US indicates that Syria’s chemical weapons would be eliminated by mid-2014.
Coincidentally or purposely, the date chosen — mid-2014 — is the official time of the next presidential elections in Syria. If the current government can stretch its existence up to the time of the election, it means with the elimination of chemical weapons, Al-Assad’s government would be gone too, and the ground would be ready for general elections.
Mr Ban told the UN Security Council that he stands ready to convene the International Conference on Syria in Geneva as soon as possible. “I look forward to meeting with Foreign Minister [Sergei] Lavrov and Secretary [John] Kerry on 28 September. I hope we will be able to set a date for the conference at that time,” he said.
Interestingly, on Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would accept any new ruler in Syria if elected. President Rouhani, who was meeting with Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, indicated that, “Whomever Syrian citizens vote to rule their country, we’ll agree with it,” as quoted by IRNA news agency. His remark was a sign of policy changes on Syria.
A foreign diplomat at the UN who requested anonymity told Al-Ahram Weekly that Iran has an opportunity to play the Syria card and resolve its nuclear file problem, and that it looks like the decision is made to do so. “Iran understands that Bashar’s time is over. Giving up on him and getting closely involved with diplomatic efforts on Syria could help lift sanctions from Iran and boost the economy,” the Western diplomat said.
Bashar Jaafari, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations, told the Weekly on Thursday at the UN that Iran was very much involved in helping Syria to find a diplomatic solution to the current situation. “Certainly we appreciate Iran’s good initiative, working with Russia closely in recent days,” Ambassador Jaafari said.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Kerry met in Paris with his counterparts from France, Britain, Turkey and Saudi Arabia on a UN Security Council resolution that would detail how the international community can secure and destroy Syria’s chemical arms stockpile and precursor chemicals.
As a sign of possible difficulties ahead, Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov sparred Monday over possible military action if Syria doesn’t abandon its chemical weapons.
The next steps, after the UN report released Monday, include the US and Russia submitting a draft resolution to the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and then tabling and passing a UN Security Council resolution “that reinforces” the group’s decision.
According to the US-Russia agreement, inspectors would arrive to Syria by November and chemical arms could be destroyed in the country or transferred abroad for destruction. The agreement — forming the template for the UN Security Council resolution — allows for the use of force if investigators find the Syrian government uncooperative. But violations would first need to be referred back to the UN Security Council, where action could still be vetoed by Russia, raising again the spectre of a unilateral US strike.
On Saturday, US President Barack Obama in a released statement thanked the Russians for the proposal and initiative on achieving peace in Syria, along with the international community, and said if diplomacy is defeated, the US stands ready for military intervention.
Framework for the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons
TAKING into account the decision of the Syrian Arab Republic to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention and the commitment of the Syrian authorities to provisionally apply the convention prior to its entry into force, the United States and the Russian Federation express their joint determination to ensure the destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons programme in the soonest and safest manner.
For this purpose, the United States and the Russian Federation have committed to prepare and submit in the next few days to the Executive Council of the OPCW a draft decision setting down special procedures for expeditious destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons programme and stringent verification thereof. The principles on which this decision should be based, in the view of both sides, are set forth in Annex A. The United States and the Russian Federation believe that these extraordinary procedures are necessitated by the prior use of these weapons in Syria and the volatility of the Syrian civil war.
The United States and the Russian Federation commit to work together towards prompt adoption of a UN Security Council resolution that reinforces the decision of the OPCW Executive Council. This resolution will also contain steps to ensure its verification and effective implementation and will request that the UN secretary-general, in consultation with the OPCW, submit recommendations to the UN Security Council on an expedited basis regarding the UN’s role in eliminating the Syrian chemical weapons programme.
The United States and the Russian Federation concur that this UN Security Council resolution should provide for review on a regular basis the implementation in Syria of the decision of the Executive Council of the OPCW, and in the event of non-compliance, including unauthorised transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII.