U.S. officials: Use of force not expected in U.N. resolution on Syria

Steve Holland
U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, U.N. Special Representative Brahimi, and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, find seats before they speak to media after meeting on crisis in Syria, at United Nations offices in Geneva
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L), U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi (C), and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, find their seats before they speak to media after a meeting on the ongoing crisis in Syria, at the United Nations offices in Geneva, September 13, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States does not expect a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria's chemical weapons to include a potential use of military force due to Russian opposition, senior Obama administration officials said on Friday.

Their comments suggested Washington will not insist on including the use of force in the U.N. resolution.

The officials, who briefed a group of reporters on condition of anonymity, said the United States would instead insist that the resolution include a range of consequences should Syria refuse to give up chemical weapons in a verifiable way.

Those consequences could include sanctions, one official said.

Independently of the United Nations, U.S. President Barack Obama has threatened the use of force in response to an August 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria that U.S. officials say killed around 1,400 people. Officials said he still retains that option.

But as part of negotiations toward a U.N. resolution on Syria, the United States sees no benefit in trying to include the potential use of force as a consequence if Syria refuses to give up its chemical weapons.

The reason is simply that Washington does not see Russia ever agreeing to such a step and could use its veto power to nix such a resolution, the officials said.

The U.S. position reflected something of a concession as it relies on Moscow's help to force Syria into an agreement to give up chemical weapons in a verifiable way.

Key allies the United States, France and Britain are discussing what should be included in a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would create the framework for verifying that the Syrian government lives up to its disarmament promises.

In Geneva, where U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, on Syria, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the effort toward the U.N. resolution was in its early stages.

"We are not going to prejudge the outcome of negotiations that are just beginning in New York. The U.S. has been clear that for any effort to be credible it must be verifiable and include consequences for noncompliance," she said.

U.S. officials say they have not backed down from pushing for a tough U.N. resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, the part that covers sanctions and military action.

The United States wants to see progress with Russia and the United Nations toward a deal on disarming Syria of its chemical weapons over the next couple of weeks, the officials said.

The Obama administration officials said they expected to seek the most stringent range of consequences while Russia seeks the weakest, and that an agreement would be sought by finding a middle ground.

Obama has drawn heavy fire from congressional critics for a muddled message on Syria this week. The week culminated with Russian President Vladimir Putin offering Obama an escape hatch by persuading Syria to agree to give up chemical weapons and scolding the American president in a New York Times opinion article.

Still, administration officials said they believed Obama was in a position to achieve the outcome he sought, the transfer of Syrian chemical weapons out of the control of President Bashar al-Assad.

They rejected the argument made by some analysts that the move still leaves Assad in power to prosecute a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people. They said Assad would be weakened tactically as a result of giving up chemical weapons and could still be forced to give up power through a political process.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Jim Loney)