Russia cancels emergency U.N. meeting on Syria chemical weapons

Reuters News
Posted: Sep 10, 2013 5:36 PM
Russia cancels emergency U.N. meeting on Syria chemical weapons

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - An emergency closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Syria was canceled on Tuesday after Russia withdrew its request for the session, Australia's U.N. envoy said, as Western powers and Russia disagreed over a plan for Syria's chemical arsenal.

"Following withdrawal of the request for consultations, Security Council meeting scheduled for 4 p.m. (2000 GMT) will not proceed," Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan, president of the 15-nation council this month, announced on his Twitter feed @AustraliaUN.

The meeting had been expected to focus on a Russian plan to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.

"Changing circumstances," was the explanation one council diplomat gave for the Russian withdrawal of its request. Russia's U.N. mission did not respond immediately to a request for a comment.

Syria on Tuesday accepted a Russian proposal to surrender its chemical weapons in order to win a possible reprieve from punitive U.S. military strikes which U.S. President Barack Obama has floated as a way of preventing a repeat of a chemical attack on August 21 that killed over 1,400 people.

Earlier on Tuesday Britain, France and the United States discussed elements of a draft resolution that a diplomat from one of the three countries said would include a timeline for Syria to declare the full extent of its poison gas arsenal and to cede control of it to the United Nations.

France said the resolution should be legally binding and state clearly that Syria would face "serious consequences" if it failed to comply with the resolution's demands - diplomatic code for military force.

But Russia, which holds a veto on the council and has three times demonstrated its willingness to use it on the Syria issue, disagrees with that approach and wants something non-binding to avoid leaving a door open to military action, diplomats said.

In an attempt to find common ground on Syria, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday, diplomats said. U.S. officials said the two men would discuss Syria's chemical weapons program.

"The U.N. Security Council process will have to wait for the Russian-U.S. bilateral process to play out," a council diplomat said.

Last week, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power declared that Washington has given up trying to work with the U.N. Security Council on Syria, accusing Russia of holding the council hostage and allowing Moscow's allies in Syria to deploy poison gas against innocent children.

But ever since Russia announced its proposal - a plan the United Nations has said it supports - the United States has openly discussed the possibility of trying again to persuade the Security Council to reach an agreement on Russia's ally Syria.

In the coming days, a U.N. investigation team is expected to present its report on the August 21 chemical attack. It is expected only to confirm whether or not poison gas was used, not who used it.

(Editing by Jackie Frank and Eric Walsh)