After weeks of wrangling, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council reached an agreement that could open up Syria to military attack if it fails to dismantle its chemical weapons stockpiles, U.N. diplomats said Thursday.
Britain's U.N. ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said Britain, France, the U.S., Russia and China agreed on a "binding and enforceable draft … resolution" to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.
The resolution will include a provision that allows for a nation to return to the U.N. Security Council to request enforcement measures should Syria not destroy or turn over its chemical weapons, according to diplomats who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
However, such a request would be subject to a veto from Russia or China, both of which have said they oppose any military intervention in Syria.
A deal that allows for force against Syria would be a diplomatic victory for President Obama, said Michael Rubin, a senior Pentagon adviser under President George W. Bush and now with the American Enterprise Institute.
"Diplomacy works better if you have a credible threat of force. It's a smart thing to include," Rubin said.
But because the U.N. has no military, it would be up to a nation that does to step forward to enforce any infractions. Rubin said Syria likely feels that the United States would not make such a move.
"It's become pretty clear" to the Syrians that Obama does not want to use force in Syria," Rubin said. "If he'd wanted to use force he would have done so five weeks ago."
The five veto-wielding members of the Security Council — France, Britain, Russia, China and the U.S. — have been discussing for weeks what to include in a resolution requiring that Syria's chemical weapons be secured and dismantled. Russia and China had opposed enforcement language.
Abraham Sofaer, a former State Department legal adviser responsible for U.S.-Iran negotiations, said a resolution that mentions Chapter 7 would give both the Russians and the Obama administration a bit of what they want.
Chapter 7 is the part of the U/N. charter that allows for military and non-military actions to promote peace and security.
"The Russians will argue that mentioning Chapter 7 doesn't automatically approve use of force, that it requires other measure first," Sofaer said. "We would say this contemplates enforcement including use of force."
The provision would give Obama grounds to argue later that "there's a moral obligation to approve use of force" if the Syrians do not comply with their obligations, said Sofaer, author of Taking on Iran.
Michael Doran, a former Middle East adviser, said a deal that requires the USA to go back to the Security Council for approval of force amounts to "a fig leaf" to let Obama say they have a threat of force.
Administration officials "want to look strong and like they're negotiating from a position of strength, but they're not," Doran said.
The discussions at the U.N. followed an Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb. Obama at first argued that a military strike was needed, then said he wanted congressional approval while acknowledging he did not need it, then took up Russia's offer to work out a deal in which Syria gives up its chemical weapons.