Russia Will Agree to Consequences for Syria, Only If It Believes ‘100 Percent’ That a Violation Has Occurred

By Patrick Goodenough | September 15, 2013 | 8:55pm EDT

Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and their senior advisors meet on the pool deck of the Hotel Intercontinental in Geneva on September 14 during a final negotiating session over an agreement to eliminate Syrian chemical weapons. (Photo: State Department)

( – The Obama administration says its painstakingly negotiated agreement with Russia over removing Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal includes consequences for non-compliance, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made it clear that for that to happen, Moscow would need to be “100 percent “ sure a violation has taken place.

That comment during a joint appearance with Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva signaled the expected difficulties ahead: Throughout the civil war, Russia has disputed allegations of misconduct by its ally in Damascus, and it has used its veto in the U.N. Security Council three times to block even muted criticism of the Assad regime.

The agreement reached in marathon talks in Geneva requires President Bashar Assad’s regime to provide an inventory of its chemical weapons program within one week, and in its first public reaction, information minister Omran al-Zoubi said Sunday said it would comply once the agreement has been embedded in a Security Council resolution.

He told British television that Syria views the agreement “with great seriousness” and has begun drawing up the relevant documents. Under the deal, initial inspections are to be completed by November and the arsenal eliminated by mid-2014.

U.S. officials hailed the agreement as a diplomatic feat, highlighting that the Russians had agreed that in the event Assad does not comply, measures would be taken under chapter seven of the U.N. Charter.

A Security Council resolution invoking chapter seven, aimed at restoring or maintaining “international peace and security,” can include the use of sanctions or armed force.

“In the event of non-compliance, we [the U.S. and Russia] have committed to impose measures under chapter seven within the U.N. Security Council,” Kerry declared alongside his Russian counterpart.

But then Kerry acknowledged that a Syrian violation of the agreement would not trigger immediate consequences. Instead, there would be further debate in the Security Council “as to what measure might be implemented.”

“What remedy is chosen is subject to the debate within the council, which is always true,” he conceded, “but there’s a commitment to impose measures.”

“It’s impossible, obviously, under these circumstances, to have a pre-agreement as to what that specific sanction might or might not be for circumstances that we don’t even know yet,” Kerry said.

Lavrov hinted at likely hurdles ahead in any such event.

“Of course, it does not mean that every violation that will be reported to the Security Council will be taken [at its] word,” he said through an interpreter.

“Of course, we will investigate every case,” Lavrov continued, “because there are a lot of false information, pieces of information in the world, and we should be very cautious about every fact.

“And when we are sure – 100 percent – then we in the Russian Federation will be ready to adopt [a] new resolution of the Security Council, to embed the measures to punish the perpetrators of this violation,” Lavrov added. “It’s nonsense to continue the speculations on the matter today.”

Russia continues to assert that rebels, not the regime, were responsible for a deadly August 21 chemical weapons attack and remains opposed to the threat of force against Assad; President Obama in a weekend statement maintained that “if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act.”

Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin, center, raises his hand to veto a draft resolution on Syria, in the U.N. Security Council on February 4, 2012. China also vetoed the resolution, while the remaining 13 council members voted in favour. (UN Photo by Paulo Filgueiras)

‘Difficult but doable’

For two-and-a-half years the Security Council has been deadlocked over Syria, with Russia and China having vetoed three Western-drafted resolutions relating to the conflict. Russia has also blocked numerous other initiatives, including a French-drafted resolution last week.

A senior administration official traveling with Kerry said that the fact the U.S. and Russia have agreed on the chemical weapons deal should “carry significant weight” as a new resolution is drafted in New York.

The official described the entire deal as “very, very difficult” but “doable.”

On the question of chapter seven and consequences for non-compliance, the official confirmed that “this will be negotiated at the U.N. We have a view. Russia has a view. There are many other players on the Security Council who also have views. This will play out over time.”

A second briefing U.S. official said the two sides had come to an agreement that the regime possesses about 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, including sarin and sulfur mustard. The official said the U.S. believes there are at least 45 sites in Syria associated with the program, and that there is no indication that any of the weapons have been moved to Lebanon or Iraq, as anti-regime rebels have charged.

The first official indicated that Russia has not shifted its stance, disputing the regime carried out the Aug. 21 attack.

“Most of the discussion was not about who was responsible for the 21st. We each know each other’s strongly-held views. The discussion was about how to move forward and eliminate this chemical weapons program.”

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