By Louis Charbonneau and Anthony Deutsch
UNITED NATIONS/AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Last week Russia and the United States put aside bitter differences over Syria to strike a deal to remove President Bashar al-Assad's chemical arsenal and avert U. S. military action against him.
The deal came after an August 21 sarin gas attack near Damascus that Washington says killed over 1,400 people, many of them children. Following are questions and answers about the plan to dismantle Syria's poison gas program.
WHAT IS THE SIZE OF SYRIA'S CHEMICAL ARSENAL?
Syria has roughly 1,000 metric tons of chemical toxins - including mustard gas and the nerve agents sarin and VX - spread over as many as 50 sites around the country.
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE HAGUE'S CHEMICAL ARMS AGENCY?
The 41-member Executive Council of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague is expected to vote on a joint Russian-American proposal to rapidly verify and destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile on Sunday.
According to the U. S.-Russian framework agreement, the chemical arms agency's Executive Council will detail "special procedures for expeditious destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program and stringent verification thereof."
The chemical arms agency's decision must be approved by a simple majority of council members, though agreement is almost always reached through a consensus, which is expected in Syria's case. The council meets behind closed doors, but may be open to observer countries that are not yet members. Syria is not yet a full member.
Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention last week in line with the U. S.-Russia deal. Its accession to the treaty comes into force next month.
WHAT ARE KEY DEADLINES UNDER THE U. S.-RUSSIAN DEAL?
- On Saturday, the one-week limit for Syria to present a complete list of its chemical weapons program lapses.
- By November 30, 2013, inspectors from The Hague's chemical arms agency are due to have completed on-site inspections of locations declared by Syria.
- November 30, 2013 is also the deadline for destruction of chemical weapons production and mixing/filling equipment.
- By June 30, 2014, the destruction of the entire Syrian chemical weapons arsenal is due to be completed.
HOW WILL THE REMOVAL OF SYRIA'S ARSENAL BE FUNDED?
U. S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Geneva that Washington and Moscow would help fund the dismantling of Syria's chemical arsenal. He added that "we will seek, in the process of the U. N. and in the effort to have a global commitment to this, help from many other of our international partners."
European Union sources said the bloc was discussing internally how it could help provide some financing for the removal and destruction of the weapons, a process that Assad said on Wednesday would cost $1 billion.
WHO WILL REMOVE AND DESTROY THE CHEMICAL WEAPONS?
That is still being worked out. However, OPCW and U. N. experts would be involved. U. S. and Russian experts may also participate. The actual destruction and/or removal of the weapons will be complicated by the fact that the country is still in the throes of a 2-1/2-year civil war.
The Hague-based chemical arms agency has never moved weapons across borders before, because of the risk, and never worked in a war zone.
WHAT HAPPENS AT THE SECURITY COUNCIL?
As soon as the OPCW decision is made, the full U. N. Security Council will begin negotiations on a resolution intended to support the OPCW Executive Council's decision. The five permanent U. N. Security Council members have been negotiating for several days on a draft resolution.
If the OPCW decision comes on Sunday, U. N. diplomats say a U. N. Security Council resolution could be put to a vote in New York early next week, possibly during the annual gathering of world leaders for the General Assembly session, which begins on Tuesday.
WHAT WILL THE RESOLUTION DO?
British U. N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant described the point of the resolution as follows: "The heart of this resolution, and its main purpose, is to make the framework agreement reached between the United States and Russia in Geneva, and the decision that will be taken by the OPCW Executive Council, endorsed by the Security Council in a legally binding, verifiable and enforceable form," he said.
Russia, however, has said that the resolution has a more modest purpose - to back the OPCW decision.
WILL THE RESOLUTION BE ENFORCEABLE?
The United States, Britain and France want the measures in the resolution to be legally binding and enforceable under Chapter 7 of the U. N. charter. Chapter 7 outlines mechanisms for enforcement, which include diplomatic and economic sanctions as well as military intervention.
Russia has been resisting the idea of using a Chapter 7 resolution to make the Syrian chemical weapons agreement legally binding and enforceable. It says that could open the door to an Iraq- or Libya-style foreign military operation.
Western diplomats say they would prefer not to rule out the use of force in the resolution, but might not have any choice if the Russians insist. It is still possible to have a legally binding Chapter 7 resolution while ruling out military intervention.
Such a resolution, Western diplomats say, could refer to Chapter 7 Article 41 of the U. N. charter, which states: "The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions." Russia, however, says any reference to Chapter 7 opens the door to military intervention.
Any punitive measures would require a new resolution.
WHAT HAPPENS IF SYRIA FAILS TO COMPLY?
The U. S.-Russian framework agreement is quite specific on the issue of non-compliance: "In the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the U. N. Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the U. N. Charter."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, told reporters after the framework agreement that this "does not mean that every violation that will be reported to the Security Council will be taken by word." He also said that Russia would support a new council resolution imposing punitive measures on whoever is guilty of non-compliance only when there is "100 percent" certainty about the circumstances of the violation.
Any punitive measures would require a new resolution. Moscow, Assad's chief ally, has made clear it would oppose any threat of force in the event of Syrian non-compliance.
IS THE PASSAGE OF A RESOLUTION CERTAIN?
No. Russia has already vetoed three U. N. Security Council resolutions that condemned Assad's government and threatened it with sanctions. Western diplomats say that it will not be easy to avoid a fourth Russian veto, even with the U. S.-Russian deal that was agreed last weekend.
COULD THE U. S. ATTACK SYRIA WITHOUT U. N. APPROVAL?
Yes, but some analysts and diplomats say air strikes against Syria without U. N. Security Council approval would be illegal. The United States has done it before, as in the case of the 1999 Kosovo war, when it circumvented the Security Council and joined NATO allies in a U. S.-led bombing campaign to drive Serbian troops out of Kosovo.
President Obama has said repeatedly that he is prepared to act against Syria without a U. N. mandate if diplomacy fails. He put a congressional vote to authorize the use of force in Syria on hold while the current diplomatic process plays itself out.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Stacey Joyce)