Security Council Suddenly the Center of Syria Diplomacy

After nearly two years of paralysis, the UN Security Council is suddenly ground-zero for diplomatic efforts on Syria.  Here’s the latest, and what it may mean.

1) The USA is backing efforts to bring a resolution to the Security Council that would order Syria’s chemical weapons stocks be placed under international control. France is first out the gate in terms of putting pen-to-paper on this resolution. This is from French foreign minister Laurent Fabius this morning:

Very specifically, France will today propose to its Security Council partners a draft resolution under Chapter VII aimed at making its ideas an immediate reality.  What ideas?

  Firstly, condemning the 21 August massacre committed by the Syrian regime;

  Secondly, demanding that the regime immediately shed full light on its chemical weapons programme, place it under international control and allow it to be dismantled;

  Thirdly, putting in place a full mechanism for the inspection and monitoring of its obligations, under the aegis of the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons;

  Fourthly, providing for extremely serious consequences in the event of Syria violating its obligations;

  Fifthly, finally, punishing the perpetrators of the 21 August chemical massacre in the international criminal justice system.

Just a few days ago, it seemed all but inevitable that the USA would circumvent the Security Council and launch military strikes. Now, after years of paralysis on Syria, the role of the Security Council to solve the Syria crisis is more relevant than ever.

This is key because peacefully resolving the Syria civil war hinges on the extent to which the Security Council can remain united around a political and diplomatic solution to this crisis. That has been elusive for two and half years. A unanimous resolution on securing chemical weapons stockpiles would provide a key launching off point for broader, international efforts to find a political solution to the Syria crisis. This could be the long-awaited diplomatic opening that Syria so desperately needs.

2) According to Sam Stein in the Huffington Post a bi-partisan group of Senators are proposing a Congressional resolution that would endorse UN efforts to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical stockpile.  However, the resolution being reportedly being considered in Congress seems to insist that the Security Council blames Assad for the August 21 incident.

The exact language of the resolution is still being hammered out, but a source familiar with the negotiations said that three general points would be pursued: The United Nations would be asked to pass a resolution saying that the Syrian government used chemical weapons; the United Nations would also be required go in and remove all of Syria’s chemical weapons by a certain date; and, finally, if the first two points are not met, U.S. military force would be authorized for use in Syria. The specifics of that authorization were still being negotiated as of Tuesday morning.

This could be a poison pill. The Russians are so far supportive of this effort–after all, it’s kind of their idea. But to insist that the Security Council blame Assad would almost certainly undermine Russian support for the resolution. If the main goal is to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical stockpile, the Senate ought to drop this pre-condition.

I would expect that the key points of contention in the Security Council–between Russia and the West–would be over apportioning blame and over accountability. If the west is willing to stomach dropping an insistence on “punishing the perpetrators of the 21 August chemical massacre in the international criminal justice system,” as Fabius says, the resolution could probably be more expeditiously passed.

This is obviously not satisfying, but if the goal is to security the chemical stockpiles while building some sort of international consensus then the question of accountability ought to be addressed at a later time.

More soon!

UPDATE:  It looks like the Security Council meeting that was intended to start at 4pm EST has now been delayed.