US President Barack Obama on Tuesday demanded that the UN Security Council take tough action against Syria, as Russia wrangled with the West over how to strip Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of chemical arms.
Syria dominated debate at the UN General Assembly summit as the UN confirmed inspectors will return to Syria on Wednesday to pursue an investigation of alleged attacks with banned poison gas.
Obama told world leaders the US 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.
He insisted international credibility was at stake after the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus, which western nations have blamed on al-Assad.
Russia and the US have agreed a plan to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, which al-Assad has accepted, and which they are now translating into a UN resolution.
“There must be a strong Security Council resolution to verify that the al-Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so,” Obama said.
French President Francois Hollande also said there had to be a threat of eventual “coercive” measures to make al-Assad stick to the plan.
Obama and Hollande insisted al-Assad was behind the August attack. US 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. However, Russia stepped in with a plan for al-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 is at loggerheads with US, French and British envoys over the exact wording of the draft.
US Secretary of State John Kerry met for 90 minutes on Tuesday with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a bid to hammer out a draft resolution and told reporters afterward the meeting was “very constructive.”
However, US officials admitted there were “three or four conceptual hurdles that had to be bridged” and the US and Russian envoys to the UN will now continue drafting a text.
The US side did not want leave any “loopholes” or “any ambiguity in the text about that goal, so that if there is non-compliance with it we all agree on next steps.”
The US side wants a UN resolution which includes reference to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which sets out various measures if the agreement is violated. Article 42 of Chapter VII threatens the use of military force, but that is not forming the basis of the draft resolution. They want to use another Chapter VII article that would make the Russia-US plan mandatory under international law.
In his speech, Obama said the US would provide another US$340 million in humanitarian aid for the Syrian crisis, which has produced about 2 million refugees, and left about 110,000 dead.