U.N. Security Council set to vote on Syria chemical arms resolution

Reuters

* Russia claims victory in deal on Syria U.N. resolution

* Obama calls resolution "potentially huge victory"

* Britain wanted reference to International Criminal Court

By John Irish and Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 27 (Reuters) - The U.N. SecurityCouncil is set to adopt a resolution on Friday on eradicatingSyria's chemical arsenal after Russia and the United Statesovercame a bitter deadlock to avert U.S. military action againstSyrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.

Amid newfound unity of the veto-wielding council members -Russia, China, France, the United States and Britain - FrenchForeign Minister Laurent Fabius said he hoped a date would alsobe agreed on Friday for so-called Geneva 2 peace talks on Syria.

"I hope we will be able to set a date so that Geneva 2 canfinally take place because the only solution is political. Wemoved forward on the chemical side but people are continuing tokill each other on the ground," Fabius told reporters.

The five big U.N. powers are due to meet Secretary-GeneralBan Ki-moon and international Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi onFriday on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly.Diplomats said if a date was set for the peace talks in Geneva,it would likely be November, as October appeared too ambitious.

U.N. diplomats said the full 15-member Security Council wasexpected to vote on the chemical weapons resolution at 8 p.m.(0000 GMT) on Friday. It will also be the first time the councilformally endorses a plan for a political transition in Syriaagreed at an international conference in Geneva in June 2012.

U.S. President Barack Obama said the draft U.N. resolutionwas a "potentially huge victory for the international community"and described it as legally binding, verifiable and enforceable.

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, saidthe resolution deflected attention from Obama's wavering on theSyrian conflict. "For the U.S., this resolution turns theattention away from its powerlessness," he said.

Assad agreed to destroy Syria's chemical weapons followingglobal outrage over a sarin gas attack in the Damascus suburbslast month - the world's deadliest chemical attack in 25 years.

Western powers blame Assad, while Assad's government and itsclose ally, Russia, say the rebels were responsible.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia continuedto work "energetically" to help convene Syria peace talks.

"People continue to die and peaceful civilians suffer everyday in Syria," he told the U.N. General Assembly. "Virtually theonly possibility today to put an end to this turmoil is to movefrom a deadlock to the process of political settlement of theSyrian crisis."

As a precursor to the U.N. vote, the 41-member Organizationfor the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons approved a decision inThe Hague on Friday laying out procedures to rapidly verify anddestroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. The decision willsee inspectors sent to Syria starting Tuesday.

INTERNATIONAL VICTORY

The five big U.N. powers ended weeks of diplomatic deadlockon Thursday by agreeing to the draft Security Council resolution- based on a deal reached by Moscow and Washington earlier thismonth - that demands Syria give up its chemical weapons.

Until recently, the council has been paralyzed on how todeal with the Syrian civil war. Russia, backed by China, hasvetoed three resolutions since October 2011 that would havecondemned Assad's government and threatened it with sanctions.

Western powers on the Security Council conceded they hadbacked away from many of their initial demands duringnegotiations. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkovclaimed a victory, saying Moscow had stood its ground onopposing any threats of military force against Syria.

A major sticking point had been Russia's opposition towriting the resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter,which covers its authority to enforce its decisions withmeasures such as sanctions or military force.

The compromise draft resolution makes the measure legallybinding, but provides for no means of automatic enforcement ifSyria fails to comply, as the United States, Britain and Franceoriginally wanted.

"No concessions have been made," Ryabkov told Voice ofRussia radio. "The main thing is that the automatic use ofChapter 7 has been ruled out."

France's Fabius told reporters, "We shall see in the comingdays and weeks if the Russians are really coherent with whatthey proposed and the vote ... we will need to be vigilant onthe action or inaction of Syria."

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powerdescribed the draft resolution as "very significant" because,when adopted, it would be the first time during the conflictthat the council had imposed binding obligations on Assad.

"Taking chemical weapons away from a regime that just usedchemical weapons ... is a very intense form of accountability,"Power said on Thursday. "I don't think anybody can discount therole that the threat of limited military action played inexpediting and catalyzing this conversation."

Obama has asked Congress to authorize the use of limitedmilitary strikes to punish Assad for the Damascus gas attack.The deal between Russia and the United States to rid Syria ofits chemical weapons averted those strikes for now.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said he was pleased thedraft resolution called for "accountability" for thoseresponsible for the chemical attacks. He added, however, that hewould have liked a reference to the International Criminal Courtin The Hague - something diplomats said Russia opposed.

To impose further measures, like sanctions or militaryaction, on the Syrian government for non-compliance with thechemical weapons deal, the Security Council would need to agreeon a second resolution.

The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have beenkilled in the civil war, after the government tried to crushpro-democracy protests, and more than half of Syria's 20 millionpeople need help.

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