Diplomats say that the crucial UN resolution to remove Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is close to completion, with envoys from the US, Russia, France, China and Britain “agreed on the core details”.
Russia has insisted that there is work “still going on”, but in a positive sign of progress the foreign ministers from the Security Council’s five veto-wielding permanent members met for lunch with secretary general Ban Ki-Moon in New York yesterday.
Following that meeting, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that while there are “a few details to solve” a united resolution could be agreed today.
A Western diplomatic source told Reuters: “It seems that things are moving forward,” adding that there was “an agreement among the five on the core”.
Envoys to the UN have been negotiating the specific terms of a resolution since Russia and the US came to a basic agreement in Geneva on 14 September.
The final deal is intended to provide a strict schedule for the regime of Bashar al-Assad to account for, give UN access to and ultimately remove the enormous chemical weapons arsenal Syria has built up over a number of decades.
The regime has been blamed for the Damascus sarin gas attack of the 21 August, the existence – if not the responsibility – of which has been confirmed by UN security inspectors.
Several envoys said a draft resolution could be presented to the full 15-nation council soon, and the five permanent members will also convene on Friday to discuss the possibility of a Syrian peace conference in Geneva.
Russia rejected the suggestions coming from Western diplomats that there was an agreement on the core of a draft resolution.
“This is just their wishful thinking,” a spokesman for Russia's UN delegation said. “It is not the reality. The work on the draft resolution is still going on.”
The main point of contention between Russia and the Western permanent members has been whether or not the resolution will be written under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, which allows the enforcement of international decisions using sanctions and military force.
There have also been disagreements regarding who is going to oversee the practical process of destroying the chemicals, with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov saying today that his country is ready to “help in guarding those facilities where work is being carried out”.
Russia has been Mr Assad's most powerful backer, delivering arms and – alongside China – blocking three UN resolutions meant to pressure the regime.
The country has in the past made it clear that it doesn’t want Chapter 7 to be used in the draft currently being tabled, and that in the event of clear, proven Syrian non-compliance a second resolution would be needed.
Meanwhile, tomorrow’s talks about setting up a peace conference have already been dealt a challenging blow this week, as thousands of opposition fighters broke away from the primary, Western-backed rebel coalition.
Thirteen disparate factions of rebels have called for a new Islamist alliance to face up to the Government’s troops. Their numbers include former allies of the internationally-recognised Free Syrian Army, as well as the al-Qa’ida-linked Nusra Front.
It is the latest in a series of blows to progress that would ideally see a united opposition presence attending international peace talks. Russia has always objected to the idea of meeting in Geneva with only the Western-backed section of the rebel forces represented.