By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States does not expect a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria's chemical weapons to include a potential use of military force due to Russian opposition, senior Obama administration officials said on Friday.
The officials, who briefed a group of reporters on condition of anonymity, said the United States would instead insist that the resolution include a range of consequences should Syria refuse to give up chemical weapons in a verifiable way.
Those consequences could include increased sanctions, the official said.
Independently of the United Nations, U.S. President Barack Obama has threatened the use of force in response to an August 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria that U.S. officials say killed around 1,400 people.
But as part of negotiations toward a U.N. resolution on Syria, the United States sees no benefit in trying to include the potential use of force as a consequence if Syria refuses to give up its chemical weapons.
The reason is simply that Washington does not see Russia ever agreeing to such a step, the officials said.
The United States wants to see progress with Russia and the United Nations toward a deal on disarming Syria of its chemical weapons over the next couple of weeks, the officials said.
Key allies the United States, France and Britain are discussing what should be included in a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would create the framework for verifying that the Syrian government lives up to its disarmament promises.
The Obama administration officials said they expected to seek the most stringent range of consequences while Russia seeks the weakest, and that an agreement would be sought by finding a middle ground.
Obama has drawn heavy fire from congressional critics for a muddled message on Syria this week. The week culminated with Russian President Vladimir Putin offering Obama an escape hatch by persuading Syria to agree to give up chemical weapons and scolding the American president in a New York Times opinion article.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are holding talks in Geneva on the Russian offer.
Still, administration officials said they believed Obama was in a position to achieve the outcome he sought, the transfer of Syrian chemical weapons out of the control of President Bashar al-Assad.
They rejected the argument made by some analysts that the move still leaves Assad in power to prosecute a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people. They said Assad would be weakened tactically as a result of giving up chemical weapons and could still be forced to give up power through a political process.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Jim Loney)