France said on Tuesday it was working on a UN resolution that will demand Syria dismantle its chemical weapons programme or face "extremely serious consequences", a day after Russia unveiled a proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons beyond use.
Russia caused surprise on Monday by proposing to impound Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said President Bashar al-Assad’s government had accepted the proposal, according to the Interfax news agency.
France said it was working on a draft UN text to implement the plan, with the threat of military action if Syria failed to comply.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters the five-point resolution, which France would submit to the Security Council later Tuesday, would condemn last month’s chemical attack "committed by the regime" and demand Syria place its chemical weapons programme under international control.
The US and France have been leading calls for a military response to the August 21 attack near Damascus, which they and their allies blame on government forces. Mr. al-Assad has vehemently denied the allegations and blamed the opposition.
It was unclear whether Russia and China, which have blocked previous resolutions on Syria, would support the tough-worded text, which will invoke Chapter VII of the UN Charter — a clause that allows for military action in certain circumstances.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who has been trying to mobilize support for missile strikes, cautiously welcomed Russia’s proposal.
In a television interview he said he would put US strike plans "on hold" if Mr. al-Assad surrendered his chemical weapons — but he also said he was doubtful that Damascus would follow through. He is due to address the nation on Tuesday evening from the White House.
Mr. Fabius said that Russia’s proposal was a vindication of France’s "determination to act, including militarily".
"We must accept the outstretched hand without falling into a trap", Mr. Fabius said, warning that “all options” were still on the table.
The Syrian opposition rejected Russia’s offer, saying it was an attempt to buy time, and pressed the international community to forge ahead with punishing the regime over its suspected chemical weapons use.
Iran, an ally of Mr. al-Assad, called the Russian proposal a step in the right direction.
"We welcome any proposal that is against war and for peace", said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marsieh Afcham on Tuesday.
The New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch said all evidence pointing to the Syrian regime being behind the chemical attack.
"Rocket debris and the symptoms of the victims from the August 21 attacks on Ghouta provide telltale evidence about the weapon systems used", said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at HRW.
A report by UN chemical weapons inspectors is expected by mid-September.