France to propose UN resolution for Syria to give up chemical weapons

France to propose UN resolution for Syria to give up chemical weapons
Jehad Sibai, a physician from Michigan, joins a group of Syrian-Americans rallying in favor of proposed U.S. military action, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, September 9, 2013.

PARIS/BEIRUT - France is to put forward a UN Security Council draft resolution for Syria to give up its chemical weapons, quickly turning a Russian idea into a full-blown diplomatic proposal that could avert Western military strikes.

The French draft would threaten "extremely serious" consequences if Syria violates the conditions for giving up its chemical weapons, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday.

Syria's rebels reacted with deep dismay on Tuesday to the proposal, which would avert Western military action to punish President Bashar al-Assad's forces for a poison gas attack that killed hundreds of people in a Damascus suburb last month.

Moscow said it was working on a concrete proposal for Syria to give up its poison gas stockpiles, a day after floating the idea in what US President Barack Obama said could be a "breakthrough".

The Russian proposal, which apparently began life as an off-the-cuff remark by US Secretary of State John Kerry, offers Obama a way out of ordering unpopular strikes, days before contentious votes in Congress seeking authorisation to use force.

With veto-wielding China also backing the proposal, it could be the rare initiative to unite global powers whose divisions so far have blocked the Security Council from acting.

While diplomacy took that extraordinary turn, the war that has already killed more than 100,000 people and driven millions from their homes ground on, with Assad's forces launching an offensive to take back a town north of Damascus.

Washington and Paris have threatened to carry out strikes to punish Assad for the August 21 poison gas attack on Damascus suburbs, which they say Syrian government forces carried out.

But after 12 years of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama has had a hard time winning over the public or members of Congress. Britain quit the coalition threatening force after Prime Minister David Cameron lost a vote in parliament.

Moscow unveiled its proposal on Monday after Kerry, speaking in London, said the only way to halt strikes would be for Assad to give up his chemical weapons arsenal.

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