UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) – U.S. President Barack Obama demanded the U.N. 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 U.N. General Assembly summit as the United Nations confirmed 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 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, and which they are now translating into a U.N. resolution.
“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 attack. U.S. intelligence says more than 1,400 people died, most of them civilians and many of them children.
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 U.N. Security Council resolution to enshrine it in international law.
Russia, however, is at loggerheads with U.S., French and British envoys over the exact wording of the draft.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met for 90 minutes Tuesday with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a bid to hammer out a draft resolution and told reporters afterwards the meeting was “very constructive.”
But U.S. officials admitted there were “three or four conceptual hurdles that had to be bridged” and the U.S. and Russian envoys to the United Nations will now continue drafting a text.
“What we need is a binding, enforceable, verifiable regime that stands the very, very best chance of implementing the framework agreement and removing the chemical stockpiles from Syria,” a senior State Department official said, asking not to be named.