UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – President Barack Obama on Tuesday demanded the UN Security Council take tough action against Syria, as Russia wrangled with the West over how to strip Bashar al-Assad of chemical arms.
Syria dominated debate at the UN General Assembly summit as the United Nations confirmed that inspectors will return to Syria on Wednesday to pursue an investigation of alleged attacks with banned poison gas.
Obama told world leaders the United States was ready to “use all elements of our power, including military force” in the Middle East to defend “core interests” such as ensuring oil supplies and eradicating weapons of mass destruction.
And he insisted that international credibility was at stake after the August 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus, which western nations have blamed on Assad.
Russia and the United States have agreed a plan to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, which Assad has accepted.
“There must be a strong Security Council resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so,” Obama said.
France’s President Francois Hollande also said there had to be a threat of eventual “coercive” measures to make Assad stick to the plan.
Obama and Hollande insisted Assad was behind the August 21 sarin attack. U.S. intelligence says more than 1,400 people died, most of them civilians and many of them children.
Russia backs the Syrian government in insisting opposition rebels carried out the assault.
Obama had threatened a punitive strike over the Damascus attack. But Russia stepped in with a plan for Assad to surrender his chemical arsenal.
In order to give the plan teeth, Western and Arab powers want a UN Security Council resolution to enshrine it in international law.
Russia, however, is at loggerheads with US, French and British envoys over the wording of the draft — refusing to allow anything that would permit a recourse to force or sanctions.
Hollande said that the resolution must be “binding” and eventually include “coercive measures.”
“If there is no binding character in the resolution, there will be no follow-up in respecting the commitments,” Hollande told the General Assembly.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov stressed that Chapter VII of the UN Charter could be invoked only if the accord is violated by either side in the Syrian conflict.
Article 42 of Chapter VII could allow military force. But Western negotiators do not use Article 42 in the draft resolution they are negotiating with Russia, according to diplomats.
They want to use another Chapter VII article that would make following the Russia-U.S. plan mandatory under international law. In Hollande’s account, the Security Council could meet again to decide sanctions if a violation of the accord is reported.
Ryabkov dubbed the threat of military action “illogical.”
“Contacts with the Americans are, unfortunately, not going as smoothly as we would like,” he told the State Duma lower house of parliament.
US Secretary of State John Kerry was to meet his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov later Tuesday to discuss the UN resolution and the Russia-U.S. disarmament plan.
In his speech, Obama said the United States would provide another $340 million in humanitarian aid for the Syrian crisis, which has produced some two million refugees.
The State Department said the aid brings the U.S. contribution to nearly $1.4 billion and includes support for food, clean water and shelter.
But the U.S. and its Arab allies are also providing equipment for the Syrian rebels — just as Moscow remains Damascus’ main armorer.
Without singling countries out, Ban declared: “I appeal to all states to stop fuelling the bloodshed and to end the arms flows to all parties.”
The UN chief urged Assad, his opponents and “all those in this hall with influence over them” to press for a peace conference to end a war that has left more than 100,000 dead.
The new leader of Qatar, a top backer of the Syrian rebels, said the civil war was raging due “to the inability of the Security Council” to take action as well as Assad’s “continued intransigence.” Russia has vetoed three resolutions seeking to put pressure on Assad.
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani said the Syria crisis showed the need to reform the Security Council, where Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States hold veto power.
“Taking a decision should not be monopolized for a long period by one or two states,” he said.