Assad disarmament held up by Russia-US wrangle: envoys
Russian objections to a tough UN Security Council resolution on Syria's chemical weapons are holding up an international plan to destroy President Bashar al-Assad's banned poison arms, diplomats said Monday.
With world leaders gathering at the UN General Assembly in New York, the deadlock is a new blow to international efforts to halt the 30-month-old conflict.
Russia and the United States agreed a disarmament plan to avert a US military strike on Syria after a chemical weapon attack in Damascus on August 21 in which hundreds of people died.
The two governments have sent a blueprint of what would be one of the biggest disarmament missions ever staged to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), diplomats said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has demanded a "strong" Security Council resolution to enforce the plan. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accuses the West of using "blackmail" over the plan to get Security Council approval for possible military action.
"The details of how to destroy the weapons are basically agreed, but everything is held up by the enforcement -- and that is between Russia and America at the Security Council," a UN diplomat told AFP.
Diplomats at the OPCW in The Hague confirmed that the chemical watchdog's executive council could not meet to agree the plan until the Security Council decides how to make Assad stick to the measures.
"An OPCW meeting this week now looks unlikely. This will have to be sorted out by their foreign ministers and presidents," the UN diplomat said.
Kerry and Lavrov are to meet in New York on Tuesday.
Without an accord between the two, the OPCW executive cannot meet and that would push back any Security Council resolution to give legal enforcement to the plan.
"The delays are holding up the start of disarmament and the deadline they have set for mid-2014 is already very tight," added a second diplomat.
Western diplomats say they want a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter to Assad's duties to declare and hand over all chemical weapons binding under international law. They deny that there is any approval for military action or any sanctions in the current draft being negotiated.
Lavrov said when he agreed with Kerry earlier this month to disarm Assad that he wanted a Chapter VII resolution to back any plan.
Russia has made a radical change in tone since, however.
"Our American partners are beginning to blackmail us" by linking the disarmament plan with the Security Council resolution, Lavrov said in a Russian television interview Sunday. "Our partners are now blinded by their ideological goal of regime change," he added.
© 2013 AFP