U.S., Russia agree to act on Syria chemical attacks

Kerry says an agreement on a U.N. resolution has been reached with Russia. It will hold those found guilty accountable

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday said an agreement has been reached with his Russia counterpart on a U.N. resolution that would designate accountability for use of chemical weapons in Syria.

“We also talked about the U.N. resolution and indeed I believe reached an agreement that should try to see that resolution voted shortly, which would create a process of accountability which has been missing,” Kerry said a day after talks with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov in Malaysia.

Earlier Thursday, a U.S. official said the United States and Russia have reached agreement on a draft U.N. resolution aimed at identifying the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria so they can be brought to justice.

Two Security Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because discussions were private, also said on Wednesday that the final draft has been circulated to all 15 Security Council members. They have until 10 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) on Thursday to raise objections, the diplomat said.

“The work is almost done. We hope to make it to Friday,” said Alexey Zaytsev, spokesman for the Russian U.N. mission, referring to the possible vote.

If there are no objections to the text, one diplomat said the resolution could be put to a vote as early as Friday.

While Russia and the United States have failed to agree on a way to end the Syrian conflict, now in its fifth year, they did agree on eliminating its chemical weapons stockpile.

The U.S. has been pressing for the council to take action to ensure accountability for an increasing number of alleged chlorine attacks that have caused deaths and injuries. Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said in June the council should look for the best way to ensure that people allegedly responsible for chlorine attacks are brought before a court.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the global chemical weapons watchdog, has a mandate to carry out fact-finding missions to determine whether there have been chemical attacks. But neither the OPCW nor the U.N. have a mandate to determine responsibility for the use of chlorine or chemical weapons.

According to one council diplomat, the final draft asks U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in coordination with OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu, to submit to the Security Council within 20 days recommendations to establish an “OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism.”

It says this investigative body will identify "to the greatest extent feasible individuals, entities, groups, or governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons, including chlorine or any other toxic chemical" in Syria, in instances where an OPCW fact-finding mission determines or has determined that an incident involved or likely involved the use of chemicals weapons.

U.S. and Russian diplomats have been meeting at the U.N. on the text of the resolution and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov discussed the need to address the "possession and potential use of chemical weapons" by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad on Wednesday, according to a senior U.S. official traveling with Kerry in Malaysia.

Following a chemical weapon attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds of civilians on Aug. 21, 2013 a U.S.-Russian agreement led to a Security Council resolution the following month ordering the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, precursors, and the equipment to produce the deadly agents.

The Syrian government's support for the resolution and decision to join the OPCW warded off possible U.S. military strikes in the aftermath of the attack, which Damascus denied carrying out.

Syria's declared stockpile of 1,300 metric tons of chemicals has been destroyed, but the OPCW is still investigating outstanding questions about possible undeclared chemical weapons.

Chlorine is not a banned agent used in chemical weapons, like sarin or ricin. But it is toxic and its use in attacks in Syria started being reported last year.

In March, the Security Council approved a U.S.-drafted resolution that condemns the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine in Syria, and threatens further measures including sanctions in the case of violations.

(With AP)

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