Syria chemical weapons: UN adopts binding resolution

John Kerry: "Diplomacy can be so powerful that it can peacefully defuse the worst weapons of war"

The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a binding resolution on ridding Syria of chemical weapons.

At a session in New York, the 15-member body backed the draft document agreed earlier by Russia and the US.

The deal breaks a two-and-a-half year deadlock in the UN over Syria, where fighting between government forces and rebels rages on.

The vote came after the international chemical watchdog agreed on a plan to destroy Syria's stockpile by mid-2014.

'Powerful diplomacy'

Speaking after the vote in New York, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the decision as "historic".

"Tonight the international community has delivered."

Only a few weeks ago, this landmark vote would have seemed highly improbable, if not unimaginable: a Security Council deadlocked for two-and-half years on Syria agreeing, with every hand raised, to a binding resolution.

After the 21 August attack in the suburbs of Damascus, its members could not even agree on a press statement condemning the killings.

The resolution has two key demands: that Syria abandon its chemical weapons stockpile and for weapons experts to be given unfettered access to make sure it is dismantled by the middle of next year.

But the resolution doesn't authorise the automatic use of force if Syria is held in violation, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov determinedly pointed out.

Punitive measures, like military action or sanctions, would require a second resolution, and then Moscow would likely wield its veto.

Nor does the resolution attribute guilt for the 21 August attack, the massacre that ended up transforming the diplomatic dynamic. Despite the agreement reached in Geneva two weeks ago which this resolution enshrines, Russia and America remain at odds over who was to blame.

For the first time, though, the Security Council has endorsed a roadmap for a political transition in Syria and the UN has also set a target date for a new peace conference in mid-November.

He urged the Syrian government to implement the resolution "faithfully and without delay", and also announced a tentative date of mid-November for a new peace conference in Geneva.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said the UN demonstrated that "diplomacy can be so powerful that it can peacefully defuse the worst weapons of war".

He said the resolution would for the first time seek to eliminate entirely a nation's chemical weapons capability.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also hailed the move, saying Moscow was ready to take part in "all operations" in Syria.

However, he stressed that the success of international efforts was "not only on Damascus' shoulders" and that Syrian opposition must co-operate.

The UN resolution condemns the use of chemical weapons but does not attribute blame.

The text has two legally binding demands: that Syria abandon its weapons stockpile and that the chemical weapons experts be given unfettered access.

Although the draft refers to Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows the use of military force, a second resolution authorising such a move would be needed.

US President Barack Obama earlier said agreement on the issue by council members would be a "potentially huge victory for the international community".

Previous attempts at a resolution stumbled amid disagreements between Russia and the US on how to deal with the crisis in Syria.

The US - backed by France and the UK - had pushed for a resolution carrying the threat of military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's armed forces. Russia had opposed this.

Reacting to the vote, Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari said the resolution covered most of Damascus' concerns.

But he stressed that countries supporting Syrian rebels should also abide by the adopted document.

'Unmistakable message'

The UN vote came just hours after the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) adopted what it called "a historic decision on the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons".

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague: "It is a ground-breaking resolution"

In a statement after a late-night meeting in The Hague, the watchdog said its executive council "agreed on an accelerated programme for achieving the complete elimination of Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014. The decision requires inspections in Syria to commence from 1 October 2013".

"The decision also calls for ambitious milestones for destruction which will be set by the (executive) council by 15 November."

OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu said the move "sends an unmistakable message that the international community is coming together to work for peace in Syria".

These are uncharted waters for the OPCW, a small organisation that has never undertaken a job of this size or complexity, says the BBC's world affairs correspondent Paul Adams.

It will need a lot of help and is expected to ask for urgent funding and additional personnel, he adds.

Syria's chemical weapons

  • Syria believed to possess more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents and pre-cursor chemicals, including blister agent, sulphur mustard, and sarin nerve agent; also thought to have produced most potent nerve agent, VX
  • US believes Syria's arsenal can be "delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets"
  • Syria acceded to Chemical Weapons Convention on 14 September; it signed Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention in 1972 but never ratified

The UK is to contribute $3m (£1.85m) to the OPCW's Syria fund, Foreign Secretary William Hague announced on Friday.

The OPCW document now forms part of the UN resolution which sets out to govern the whole process.

Meanwhile. violence continued in Syria. Activists said a car bomb killed at least 20 people near a mosque in Rankus, a town north of Damascus, just after Friday prayers.

Earlier, the UN said its team of inspectors currently in Syria are investigating three chemical weapons attacks alleged to have happened after the 21 August attack in Damascus that left hundreds dead and sparked a threat of US military action.

The three attacks are among seven alleged incidents the UN said its team were investigating.

The UN said its team, led by Ake Sellstrom, arrived in Syria for its second visit on 25 September and hopes to finish its work by Monday.

Map

It is working on a "comprehensive report" that it expects to have finished by late October.

The UN listed the alleged attacks, which all took place this year, as Khan al-Assal on 19 March; Sheikh Maqsoud on 13 April; Saraqeb on 29 April; Ghouta on 21 August; Bahhariya on 22 August; Jobar on 24 August and Ashrafieh Sahnaya on 25 August.

Damascus pushed for the investigation of the three post-21 August incidents, accusing "militants" of using chemical gas against the army in Bahhariya, Jobar and Ashrafieh Sahnaya.

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