MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia hopes the U.N. Security Council will agree a resolution this week to support a deal for Syria to abandon its chemical arms, but talks with the United States have been rocky, a senior Russian diplomat said on Tuesday.
Speaking before negotiations expected on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reiterated Russia’s opposition to any threat of military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
He said Moscow would not accept a resolution stipulating automatic punitive measures if Assad fails to comply with the U.S.-Russian deal under which he has agreed to give up his chemical arsenal.
“There is no talk of adopting a U.N. Security Council resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter. There can be no talk of any automatic application of sanctions, let alone the use of force,” Ryabkov told a meeting in parliament.
But he said Chapter 7, which can authorise the use of force or other measures, could be cited in the resolution as a possible means to counter any violations later on.
“Chapter 7 can be mentioned only as an element of a possible set of measures against violators,” he said, referring to potential future cases of chemical arms use or stalling the work of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
He reiterated Moscow’s stance that any Chapter 7 resolution could only come after any such cases are well proven and have been discussed within the Security Council.
Ryabkov also highlighted Russian concerns that Western states want to use the chemical arms agreement as a pretext for eventual military action.
U.S. officials “always mention that plans to punish Damascus remain in force. We draw certain conclusions from that and assume the threat of aggression in violation of international law is so far only delayed - not dismissed fully.”
Asked whether the permanent Security Council members - Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France - could reach agreement on the resolution this week, he said: “We hope so, but there is no guarantee.”
“Unfortunately it’s necessary to note that in contacts with the Americans, things are not going so smoothly ... they are not quite going in the direction they should,” Ryabkov said.
He gave no details.
Russia has been the Syrian government’s strongest backer during the conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people since 2011, delivering arms and, with China, blocking three Western-backed resolutions intended to put pressure on Assad.
The U.S.-Russia deal for Syria to abandon chemical weapons was a rare exception to their disagreements over the conflict.
It prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to hold back his request for Congressional approval to strike Syria to punish Assad for an August 21 sarin gas attack Washington says killed more than 1,400 people. Damascus denies it was the perpetrator.
The United States and its Security Council allies Britain and France blame Assad’s forces for the attack. Russia says it believes rebels staged it to provoke military intervention, and has described a report by U.N. chemical inspectors as biased.
Russia has said there is evidence indicating rebels were behind other alleged chemical attacks in Syria. It has called for investigation of all such claims and the consideration of more sources of evidence about the August 21 attack.
U.N. officials have said the U.N. investigators will return to Syria in the next few days. Ryabkov said they were expected to travel to Damascus on Wednesday, and suggested that pressure from Moscow had played a role.
“We are pleased that our persistent calls for the return of U.N. experts to Syria for the investigation of other episodes have borne fruit,” he said.
Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Alistair Lyon