Skip to main content

Bickering over U.S.-Russia deal focuses on possible punishment for Syria

By Holly Yan and Phil Black, CNN
updated 6:22 AM EDT, Wed September 18, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: 70 die in latest violence, opposition says
  • U.N.'s Ban prods Washington and Moscow to "demonstrate their leadership"
  • The United States and France want to keep the threat of force on the table
  • Russia says it wouldn't support any resolution authorizing force against the Syrian regime

Read a version of this story in Arabic.

(CNN) -- Days after Russia and the United States reached a deal on getting Syria to give up its chemical weapons, world powers are quarreling over the details.

The agreement, reached by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry over the weekend, calls for a U.N. resolution demanding that Syria turn over its chemical weapons to international control in a specific time frame.

READ: There's a chemical weapons agreement. Now what?

Russia won't support any resolution that would authorize the use of force against Syria if it doesn't comply, Lavrov said Tuesday.

But the United States and France want to keep the threat of force on the table if Syria doesn't comply. Those allies say they are convinced that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime was behind a chemical weapons attack in opposition areas that, according to U.S. estimates, killed more than 1,400 people.

Russia: 'Materials' implicate rebels
Bill Clinton weighs in on Syria
Explaining the U.N. weapons report
EXCLUSIVE: Inside chemical weapons lab

Representatives of those three powers and the two other veto-wielding permanent Security Council members met behind closed doors at the United Nations on Tuesday to hammer out a draft resolution, a meeting a U.N. diplomat called "constructive."

"For the first time there was a discussion of the actual text," said the diplomat, who didn't want to be named discussing ongoing private negotiations. "There are well-known different views on some of the elements, but we are trying to resolve those issues."

The meetings were likely to resume Wednesday, the diplomat said.

U.N. weapons inspectors reported Monday that an August 21 attack outside Damascus had been carried out using the nerve gas sarin. Tuesday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the findings should spur member states to bring the bloodshed in Syria to a halt, urging both Washington and Moscow to "demonstrate their leadership."

"Let us be clear: the use of chemical weapons in Syria is only the tip of the iceberg," he said. "The suffering in Syria must end."

Though the inspectors did not assign blame for the attack, a U.S. analysis of their report shows the Syrian regime was responsible for the August 21 massacre outside Damascus, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.

"Based on our preliminary review of information contained in the report, several crucial details confirm the Assad regime's guilt in carrying out this attack," she said.

One of the munitions identified in the report, a 120-millimeter improvised rocket, has been linked to previous attacks by the al-Assad regime, and "we have no indications that the opposition has manufactured or used this style rocket."

In addition, the environmental, chemical, and medical samples collected by U.N. investigators "provide clear and compelling evidence" that the rockets used in the attack contained sarin gas, a nerve agent, she said. "We know the regime possesses sarin; we have no evidence, however, that the opposition possesses sarin."

She added that the United States reserves the right to take military action. Though diplomacy is the preferred option, "I don't want to predict what the end result will be," she said.

Still, she was willing to predict that that end result would not include the status quo in Damascus. "We don't see a future for Assad, a future in Syria that includes Assad," she said.

International inspections of Syria's declared chemical weapons storage sites are to begin next month and all chemical weapons are to be eliminated by June 30, 2014, she said.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius shared Psaki's view that the Syrian regime was responsible for the massacre.

But, at the same news conference, Lavrov brushed aside a question about blame. He noted that the U.N. inspectors in Syria were not tasked with figuring out who was responsible and that that was not the point of the U.N. report.

Russia has suggested Syrian rebels may have been behind the attack, though critics have said rebels did not have the means to unleash chemical weapons.

A scathing report

Inspectors found "clear and convincing evidence" that the nerve agent sarin was delivered by surface-to-surface rockets "on a relatively large scale" in the August 21 attack on a Damascus suburb, Ban said Monday.

"It is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988," Ban said, referring to the chemical attack against Kurds in northern Iraq that killed thousands, mostly civilians, "and the worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century," Ban said. "The international community has a responsibility to ensure that chemical weapons never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare."

But on Tuesday, Ban said it was "for others to decide whether to pursue this matter further to determine responsibility and accountability."

READ: Syrian crisis: Keeping up with key developments

The diplomatic quarrel over just who may have been responsible for the chemical weapons attack came as the toll from conventional weapons continued to mount. The opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported that 70 people -- including four children and seven women -- were killed Tuesday nationwide.

Syrian-Turkish border tension

A blast rocked the Syrian side of the Turkish-Syrian border Tuesday, Turkey's semiofficial Anatolian news agency reported.

Video shot by activists showed torrents of black smoke emerging from blazing vehicles at the crossing as survivors tried to help victims.

The LCC said the attack wounded many people.

The explosion, which happened near a border gate, comes a day after Turkish planes shot down a Syrian helicopter crossing into Turkey. It came down on Syrian territory, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said.

Syria's state news agency SANA said the helicopter was watching for "terrorists" crossing the border and erroneously strayed into Turkish airspace, but was on its way back across the border when shot down.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh, Richard Allen Greene, Josh Levs, Aliza Kassim, Joe Sterling and Jennifer Deaton contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
Syrian crisis
updated 10:48 AM EDT, Tue September 9, 2014
As a 10-year-old, this boy first hit the headlines in 1982 when he saved his cat from a fire. This year, he was reported to be a suicide bomber.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri September 5, 2014
Aqsa Mahmood,19, would listen to Coldplay and read Harry Potter books. Then this Glasgow girl became an ISIS bride.
updated 4:23 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The little boy looks barely old enough to walk, let alone understand the dark world he's now inhabiting.
updated 12:22 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
ISIS has released video of the aftermath of a mass execution. Another video shows alleged captured Peshmerga soldiers.
updated 5:33 AM EDT, Sat August 30, 2014
The number of people who have fled Syria and registered as refugees amid the country's civil war will surpass 3 million Friday.
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Douglas McAuthur McCain, 33, grew up in the Minneapolis area, but died more than 6,000 miles away in Syria, fighting for ISIS.
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Mon September 1, 2014
If the United States is serious about thoroughly defeating ISIS, it must, somehow, go through Syria.
updated 8:43 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Jihadists have kidnapped over 140 Kurdish boys to "brainwash" them. But a few boys made a daring escape.
updated 8:48 AM EDT, Thu June 26, 2014
Reports that Syrian warplanes carried out a cross-border attack on Iraqi towns is further evidence of the blurring of the two countries' borders.
updated 5:33 PM EDT, Tue June 24, 2014
CNN's Atika Shubert speaks to a father whose teenage son joined the Jihad movement in Syria.
updated 7:41 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
At the start of Syria's civil unrest, Omar would rally against the government alongside his schoolmates, later taking to the streets in his hometown of Salqin.
updated 5:17 PM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
Atika Shubert looks at the rise of European jihadists traveling to Syria and whether they soon could join ISIS in Iraq.
updated 10:53 AM EDT, Mon June 23, 2014
The final stockpile of Syria's chemical weapons has been shipped out of the country, according to the OPCW, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
updated 4:25 PM EDT, Wed June 25, 2014
The US isn't doing airstrikes in Iraq. Is there a vacuum for Syria and Iran to step in? CNN's Fareed Zakaria weighs in.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Tue June 10, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports on Syrian rebels using underground explosions against the better-equipped regime.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 9, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh returns to the besieged rebel areas of Aleppo, a pale skeleton of a city that has had the life bombed out of it.
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Mon June 2, 2014
Syria may be embroiled in a brutal three-year civil war, but that's not stopping the government from holding presidential elections.
updated 7:23 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh meets an ISIS defector in hiding and gets a rare look into the group's recruitment process.
updated 12:10 PM EDT, Thu June 5, 2014
Over a thousand Syrian refugees have turned an abandoned shopping mall in Lebanon into makeshift living quarters.
updated 6:16 PM EDT, Wed September 17, 2014
More than 100,000 people reportedly have been killed in Syria since a popular uprising in 2011 spiraled into a civil war.
ADVERTISEMENT