GENEVA — The Obama administration will not press for U.N. authorization to use force against Syria if it reneges on any agreement to give up its chemical weapons, senior administration officials said Friday.
The Russians have made clear in talks here between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State John F. Kerry that the negotiations cannot proceed under the threat of a U.N. resolution authorizing a military strike. Russia also wants assurances that a resolution will not refer Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the International Criminal Court for possible war-crimes prosecution.
President Obama has said that the unilateral U.S. use of force against Syria for a chemical attack last month remains on the table. But consideration of that action, already under challenge by a skeptical Congress, has been put on hold pending the outcome of the Geneva talks.
The discussions here began this week following a Russian proposal Monday, quickly agreed to by Assad, to place Syria’s chemical arsenal under international control and eventually destroy it.
Kerry and Lavrov, negotiating behind closed doors with teams of disarmament experts, have said little about the talks that began Thursday. But administration officials in Washington provided some details on the condition that they not be identified or quoted directly.
The officials insisted that any agreement must be verifiable and include consequences for non-compliance. Short of a threatened use of force, it is not clear what those consequences would be.
The question of U.N. authorization for using force in Syria came up less than 24 hours after the Russians first made their proposal. France quickly drafted a resolution that threatened to consider “further necessary measures” — code words for military force — if Syria makes a deal and then breaks it. The draft, negotiated with the United States and Britain, was met with public statements from Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putinthat they would not negotiate under threat.
Washington and London have now backed off the use-of-force provision, and a revised French draft being circulated at the U.N. Security Council has weakened it. Instead, the draft calls for continuous review of “Syria’s compliance . . . and, if Syria does not comply fully, to impose further measures” that are unspecified.
The draft still includes a provision to refer Syrian authorities to the International Criminal Court, but that provision could also be removed in subsequent reworkings as the Geneva negotiations continue.
The senior officials said they expected a U.N. resolution in some form to pass within weeks of a Geneva agreement.
One possible course of action, they said, is the internationally verified transfer of Syria’s chemical stockpiles to Russia, where they eventually would be destroyed.
The Kerry-Lavrov discussions hit snags Friday over ways to ensure all chemical stockpiles are identified, an official familiar with the talks said, but a second official said the two sides were “coming closer to agreement.”