AFP – UN chief Ban Ki-moon will on Monday present a report on Syria’s chemical weapons, increasing pressure on the Assad regime, as support grows for a US-Russian initiative to avert war.
Ban will unveil the findings of a UN investigation team to the UN Security Council in New York at 11:15am (1515 GMT). He has already revealed that he expects the report to provide “overwhelming” confirmation that chemical arms were used in an attack near Damascus on August 21 in which hundreds died.
The Russia-US accord on the dismantling of Syria’s chemical stockpile will also weigh heavily on Security Council consultations expected to be called Monday.
International support for the initiative is growing, even as Washington and Paris warned that military action remains an option.
A Syrian minister insisted Sunday that the US-Russia deal represented a “victory” for the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.
“On one hand, it helps the Syrians emerge from the crisis and on the other it has allowed for averting war against Syria,” Minister of State for National Reconciliation Ali Haidar told Russian news agency Ria Novosti of the deal.
“It’s a victory for Syria that was achieved thanks to our Russian friends.”
His remarks came as US Secretary of State John Kerry met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to brief him on the plan and emerged with a word of warning for Damascus.
“The threat of force remains, the threat is real,” Kerry said at a joint news conference in Jerusalem with Netanyahu.
Washington is seeking to bolster international support for the agreement signed in Geneva on Saturday, which demands rapid action from Damascus.
The ambitious plan to dismantle and destroy Syria’s chemical arms stockpile – one of the largest in the world – by mid-2014 was thrashed out over three days in Geneva between Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
It gives Assad a week to hand over details of his regime’s arsenal of the internationally banned arms in order to avert unspecified sanctions and the threat of US-led military strikes.
It also specifies there must be immediate access for arms control experts and that inspections of what the US says are some 45 sites linked to the Syrian chemical weapons programme must be completed by November.
French President Francois Hollande, whose country has taken a hard line against Assad’s regime, said the deal was an “important step” but “not an end point”.
Kerry flew from Israel to Paris where he will hold talks Monday with Hollande, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal and their Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu.
Syria’s information minister said Damascus would commit to the plan once it had United Nations approval.
“Syria is committing itself to whatever comes from the UN,” Omran al-Zohbi told Britain’s ITN television.
“We accept the Russian plan to get rid of our chemical weapons. In fact we’ve started preparing our list.”
However the Syrian rebels fighting to oust Assad have rejected the deal, warning it would not halt the conflict.
“Are we Syrians supposed to wait until mid-2014, to continue being killed every day and to accept (the deal) just because the chemical arms will be destroyed in 2014?” asked Free Syrian Army chief General Selim Idriss.
The deal won the important backing of China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, which like Russia has blocked several UN resolutions on Syria.
“This agreement will enable tensions in Syria to be eased,” Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his visiting French counterpart Laurent Fabius in Beijing.
Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi called the deal “a step closer to a political solution” to the conflict that has cost more than 110,00 lives since March 2011.
The UN report delivered Monday will influence any attempt by the Security Council to agree a resolution backing the Russia-US accord. Lavrov has made clear Russia will not allow any UN resolution that approves the use of force if Assad does not carry out the accord. Western nations insist there must be “consequences”.
The report promises to be very technical, with details of the missile used and possibly the trajectory of the missile, according to diplomats.
The mid-2014 deadline for the destruction of Syria’s chemical stockpiles “seems to be a complete fantasy,” Olivier Lepick of the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris told AFP.
“Given the civil war, I don’t think it can happen.”
Kerry said the joint plan would be encapsulated in a Security Council resolution drawn up under Chapter Seven of the UN charter, which provides for enforcement through sanctions, including the possible use of military force.
But with Russia strongly opposed to the use of military threats against its long-term ally Syria, Kerry acknowledged it would be up to debate in the Security Council over what sanctions to impose.
In the latest violence, a mortar round exploded near a provincial headquarters in the Marjeh district of Damascus on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, without reporting casualties.
It said the attack was swiftly followed by an air strike on rebel positions.