Senior White House officials said Friday that President Barack Obama may be open to a UN resolution to secure Syria’s chemical weapons that does not include the threat of military force for failing to abide by the agreement.
The officials say Obama retains the authority to launch a strike, but Russia is expected to veto a resolution that includes a military trigger.
The officials also outlined for the first time a timetable for negotiations with Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons. The officials say they will know within a few weeks whether that effort has the necessary traction.
Another official says talks with Russia in Geneva are at a “pivotal point” and will continue Saturday.
The officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the internal deliberations by name.
Earlier Friday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he believes there will be “an overwhelming report” from UN inspectors that chemical weapons were used in an attack in Syria on Aug. 21, but he did not say who was responsible.
The Syrian government and rebels blame each other for the attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The Obama administration, which says 1,429 people were killed, has said it has evidence that clearly indicates the Syrian government was behind the attack. But Russia, a key ally of Syria, has said it is not convinced by the US evidence.
The UN inspectors have a mandate to determine whether chemical weapons were used — and if so, which agent — not to establish who was responsible. But two UN diplomats said the report could point to the perpetrators, saying that the inspectors collected many samples from the attack and also interviewed doctors and witnesses.
Ban spoke shortly before the chief chemical weapons inspector, Ake Sellstrom, told The Associated Press that he has completed his report and will deliver it to the secretary-general in New York this weekend.
Ban also said President Bashar Assad’s regime “has committed many crimes against humanity.”
“Therefore, I’m sure that there will be surely the process of accountability when everything is over,” he said.
Asked whether Ban’s conclusion was in response to the report, UN associate spokesman Farhan Haq said that as far as he knows the report hadn’t been completed “so it’s not possible for any of us to have seen the report at this present moment.”
But he added that Ban “has been in touch with different people including the experts.”
The secretary-general spoke at the Women’s International Forum. He thought his speech and response to questions were not being broadcast, but they were shown on UN television.
Speaking by telephone from the Netherlands, Sellstrom said he didn’t know exactly when the report would be released publicly. He confirmed that “it’s done, but when to present it is up to the secretary-general.”
The two diplomats said the inspectors had soil, blood and urine samples and may also have collected remnants of the rockets or other weapons used in the attack, which could point to those responsible. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions on the issue have been confidential.
Haq said after receiving the report, Ban will present it UN member states and that the media should receive it shortly afterward.
In his speech, Ban said “the disaster” in Syria has created “a lost generation of children and young people” and led to “rising sectarian tensions, regional instability, the largest displacements of people in a generation, grave violations of human rights, including sexual violence.”
“The latest fighting has also raised the specter of chemical warfare — which, if confirmed by the UN investigation mission, would be an atrocious violation of international law,” Ban said.