UNITED NATIONS – Key international players were moving on two diplomatic fronts Wednesday to try to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and a fresh effort appeared to be under way to get the Syrian government and opposition to peace talks.
The five veto-wielding members of the Security Council, who have been deeply divided over Syria, met late Wednesday to discuss what to include in a new resolution requiring that Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile be secured and dismantled. They later left Russia’s U.N. mission without commenting.
At the same time, U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were heading to Geneva with teams of experts for talks today about the nuts and bolts of putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and destroying them, diplomats said.
The U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, was also heading to Geneva to be available to meet Kerry and Lavrov, whose efforts to start peace talks to end the 2-year-old Syrian civil war have been stymied by a government offensive and a deadly suspected poison gas attack on Aug. 21.
The diplomatic flurry follows the threat of U.S. missile strikes against President Bashar Assad’s regime and a surprise offer from Kerry that Syria could avert U.S. military action by turning over “every single bit of his chemical weapons” to international control in a week. Russia, Syria’s most important ally, and Assad’s government quickly agreed on the broad proposal, but details still need to be worked out.
A senior U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said today’s meeting between Kerry and Lavrov will be an exploratory session to gauge whether they can embark on “the herculean task” of dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons while the country is at war.
While serious differences have already emerged, especially on whether a U.N. resolution should be militarily enforceable as the U.S. and its Western allies are demanding, the diplomatic moves represent the first major effort in more than a year to try to get supporters of the Syrian government and opposition on the same page.
Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed Security Council resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to end the conflict, which has left the United Nations’ most powerful body paralyzed as the war escalates and the death toll surpasses 100,000. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the council’s paralysis embarrassing.
The White House said Wednesday it is not setting a timetable for a diplomatic resolution of the Syrian crisis, though Press Secretary Jay Carney said putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control “obviously will take some time.”