- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 25, 2013

State Department officials at the United Nations briefed reporters Tuesday about Syria arms talks that day between Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

From the briefing, it appears the Obama administration is backing away from an outline “framework” arms agreement reached in Geneva with the Russians that states any Syrian violations of chemical arms dismantlement would be met with a “Chapter 7” response under the U.N. Charter. That section authorizes the use of military force under the U.N. Security Council.

According to the officials, it now appears Russian officials have prevailed in seeking to keep formal references to Chapter 7 out of two draft documents on the Syrian arms deal.

The Kerry-Lavrov talks were described as “constructive,” diplomatic-speak for cautious optimism, said senior officials who spoke to reporters at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.

The discussions focused on turning the informal Geneva framework into a formal U.N. Security Council resolution and a separate agreement for the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

At issue in the talks is whether a verifiable and enforceable plan can be put in place to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons, estimated to include at least 1,000 tons of blister and nerve agents.

“This is a unique challenge in terms of both the size of the program that is to be destroyed as well as the conditions under which this endeavor will be undertaken,” namely during a sectarian civil war, said one of the officials, all of whom spoke on background.

Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is now working with Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, to deal with “three or four key conceptual hurdles” to the two formal dismantlement documents, they said.

“In the end game, what we need is a binding, enforceable, verifiable regime that stands the very, very best chance of implementing a framework agreement and removing the chemical stockpiles from Syria,” a senior official said.

The United States wants to ensure that “consequences” to noncompliance are stated clearly in the agreements, although the officials said the talks now are not focused on specific language requiring the use of force against Syria if it fails to give up its poison gas weapons.

The senior official said it is hoped the agreement will “make sure that we don’t leave any loopholes, to make sure that we don’t leave any ambiguity or disagreement.”

Final texts will outline what Syria must do, how the disarmament will take place, and what actions will take place if there are violations.

The Geneva framework called for Chapter 7 measures.

However, Russia is opposing specific references to possible military force in the Syria deal, arguing that any noncompliance would require an additional U.N. resolution on the use of force. Critics say that tactic would allow Moscow to use its Security Council veto power to block any authorization for attacks.

Asked about linking the use of force to Syrian noncompliance, one official said: “The goal here is if this agreement is not complied with, there will be consequences.”

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