The United States has not ruled out military strikes against Syria if Damascus does not abide by a US-Russian plan to hand over its chemical weapons arsenal, a White House official said Friday ahead of UN Security Council talks on enforcing the disarmament program.
“We are not forsaking the option of the United States and our allies taking military action,” White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters during a conference call.
Washington and Moscow are expected to clash in negotiations at next week’s UN General Assembly over the terms of a Security Council resolution that would enforce Syria’s compliance with a US-Russian plan hammered out in Geneva last week.
US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told a news briefing Friday that the five Security Council members met Friday to discuss a resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons, which the United States hopes will be up for a vote next week.
The administration of US President Barack Obama will continue to push for a resolution that includes the option of military action if Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government fails to adhere to the US-Russian plan to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control for eventual destruction, Rhodes said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said this week, however, that the threat of the use of force is not acceptable in a resolution, a position in line with Russia’s consistent rejection of outside military intervention in Syria’s civil war.
Obama will argue in a speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday that Assad and his government must face “consequences” should “they fail to cooperate with the international community” in the effort to dispose of Syria’s chemical arsenal, Rhodes said.
Rhodes’ comments followed the announcement earlier Friday by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which monitors the global ban on these arms, that Syria had provided it with details of its chemical weapons program.
The Netherlands-based group, which is tasked with overseeing the US-Russian framework agreement, said in a statement that it had “received an initial disclosure from the Syrian Government of its chemical weapons program, which is now being examined by the Technical Secretariat.”
Under the US-Russian plan, Assad’s government has until Saturday to submit to the OPCW a “comprehensive listing” of Syria’s chemical weapons program, including types and quantities of chemical weapons agents, types of munitions, and “location and form of storage, production, and research and development facilities.”
Harf said Friday that the United States, as a member of the OPCW executive council, would conduct a “careful and thorough review” of the report after it is passed on to the council by the organization’s technical secretariat.
“We’ve said all along that we need to see forward momentum,” Harf said. “… We have a document we didn’t have yesterday at the OPCW, and we’ll be taking a look at it and making an assessment.”
An OPCW spokesman quoted by Reuters said that the watchdog had received from the Syrian government “part of the verification, and we expect more.”
The news agency quoted a UN diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, as saying that the document is “quite long” and in the process of being translated from Arabic.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed Syria by telephone Friday morning in what America’s top diplomat called “a fairly long conversation.”
“We talked about the cooperation which we both agreed to continue to provide, moving not only towards the adoption of the OPCW rules and regulations, but also a resolution that is firm and strong within the United Nations. We will continue to work on that,” Kerry said before a bilateral meeting in Washington with Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the Americans had initiated the call.
The Obama administration has accused Assad’s government of responsibility for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that Washington claims killed more than 1,400.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, meanwhile, repeated Moscow’s claim that the attack was likely carried out by rebels seeking to frame Assad as they battle to remove him from power.
Moscow has also cast doubt on the findings of a report by UN inspectors released this week about the Aug. 21 attack and has called for a follow-up inspection. US officials say the report clearly demonstrates the Assad regime’s culpability.