UNSC discuss Syria's chemical weapons

Diplomatic efforts to place Syria's chemical weapons under international control intensified.

A logo of the United Nations at its headquarters in New York. Picture: AFP

GENEVA/UNITED NATIONS - Diplomatic efforts to place Syria's chemical weapons under international control intensified on Wednesday while UN rights investigators detailed what they called war crimes carried out largely by Syrian government forces in the civil war.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by phone, the State Department said, one day before they meet in Geneva to try to agree on a strategy to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.

The five permanent veto-wielding powers of the UN Security Council met in New York to discuss plans to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control - averting a threatened US military strike - as Britain, France and the United States talked about drafting a resolution.

The UN ambassadors of China and Russia as well as Britain, France and the United States met for about half an hour at the Russian UN mission. They declined comment as they left.

In a reminder of the mounting atrocities in Syria, a report by a UN commission of inquiry documented eight mass killings, attributing all but one to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces. It said Assad's forces almost certainly committed two massacres in May that killed up to 450 civilians.

An initial French draft Security Council resolution called for delivering an ultimatum to Assad's government to give up its chemical weapons arsenal or face punitive measures. Russia has called that text unacceptable.

Diplomats said there have been other drafts under discussion and an attempt was being made to come up with common language agreeable to Britain, France and the United States, whose envoys met separately on the issue.

President Barack Obama said in a speech on Tuesday that he had asked Congress to put off a vote on his request to authorise military action in Syria to let diplomacy play out, although he said the threat was still needed to ensure Syria complies.

Obama cited "encouraging signs" in part because of the US threat of military action to punish Assad for what the United States and other Western powers say was the Syrian government's use of poison gas to kill 1,400 civilians in Damascus on August 21. Assad's government blames the attack on the rebel forces.

On Tuesday, Syria accepted a Russian proposal to surrender its chemical weapons to international control to try to win a possible reprieve from a US military strike.

Russia has been Assad's most powerful backer during the civil war, which has killed more than 100,000 people since 2011, delivering arms and - with China - blocking three UN resolutions meant to pressure Assad.

Kerry also planned to meet UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi while in Geneva. At least two days of US-Russian talks are expected there.

US lawmakers said the Senate could start voting as soon as next week on a resolution to authorise military force if efforts to find a diplomatic solution fail. Obama has struggled to find support in Congress for the plan.


The UN report released in Geneva, largely covering incidents between May and July, said government and rebel fighters committed war crimes including murder, hostage-taking and shelling of civilians. It accused forces loyal to Assad of bombing schools and hospitals, and rebels of carrying out summary executions.

The commission urged the UN Security Council to hold perpetrators accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Syria conflict began in March 2011 as an uprising against Assad and descended into a civil war in which mostly Sunni Muslim rebels are pitted against Assad's forces, who are backed by Shi'ite Muslim Iran and Hezbollah.

In Moscow, Russia's parliament urged the United States not to strike Syria, saying in a unanimous declaration that military action could be a "crime against the Syrian people."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu kept up pressure for action, saying Syria must be stripped of its chemical weapons and that the international community must make sure those who use weapons of mass destruction pay a price.

Netanyahu said Syria had carried out a "crime against humanity" by killing innocent civilians with chemical weapons and that Syria's ally Iran, which is at odds with the West over its nuclear program, was watching to see how the world acted.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said he hoped that a US promise to pursue diplomacy to remove the threat of chemical weapons in Syria was "serious and not a game with the media," the state news agency IRNA reported.