France pushes for tough U.N. resolution on Syria

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 10, 2013 7:51 AM
France pushes for tough U.N. resolution on Syria

By John Irish

PARIS (Reuters) - France sought to seize the diplomatic initiative on Syria on Tuesday, saying it would push for a U.N. resolution setting out terms for the destruction of its chemical weapons and warning of "serious consequences" if it resisted.

The announcement by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius came a day after a surprise proposal by Russia that its Syrian ally hand over its chemical weapons stocks, a move that could avert possible U.S.-led military strikes.

Paris has declared itself ready to help in such strikes but has been left in limbo since the United States decided to seek Congress approval before responding to an August 21 chemical weapons attack on the outskirts of Damascus which it says came from Syrian government troops.

Speaking at a hastily organized news conference, Fabius warned against falling into a "trap" and said the proposed resolution would be under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter covering the possible use of military action to restore peace.

It would require Damascus to reveal "without delay" the extent of its chemical program and place it under international control for dismantlement.

"The Russian foreign minister made an offer ... This cannot be used as a maneuver to divert us," said Fabius, whose country has been a strong backer of action including possible strikes against President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

"That is why we have decided to take this initiative. France will put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council in this sense and the procedure starts today."

"All options remain on the table," he added when asked if a military strike was still possible.

Western officials have expressed skepticism about the Russian proposal, fearing it could simply be a delaying tactic aimed at averting strikes but offering no real prospect of resolving a civil war which started as a March 2011 uprising.

French President Francois Hollande, who does not need parliamentary approval to act in Syria, has come under pressure at home and from European partners to return to the United Nations before deciding how to react - despite the fact that Russia and China have previously vetoed efforts to produce a tough resolution on Syria.

"It was extremely well played by the Russians, but we didn't want someone else to go to the U.N. with a weak resolution. This is on our terms and the principles are established," a French diplomatic source said.

"It puts Russia in a situation where they can't take a step back after putting a step forward," he said.

The draft resolution, to be put to the Security Council later on Tuesday for discussion, would include an explicit condemnation of the August 21 chemical weapons attack and contain a call for those behind the attack to be punished at the International Criminal Court.

Fabius is due to speak to veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday. He will travel to Russia next week and may visit China as early as this week, he said.

"It is on acceptance of these precise conditions that we will judge the credibility of the intentions that were announced yesterday," Fabius said.

(Editing by Nicholas Vinocur and Robin Pomeroy)