UN votes unanimously to rid Syria of dirty weapons news
28 September 2013

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously adopted a binding resolution to eliminate all chemical weapons in Syria by the middle of next year.

Chemical WeaponAt its summit in New York on Friday, the 15-nation body backed the draft document agreed earlier by Russia and the United States. The deal breaks a long deadlock in the UN over Syria, where fighting between government forces and rebels rages on.

The vote after two weeks of intense negotiations marked a major breakthrough in the paralysis that has gripped the council since the Syrian uprising began. Russia and China previously vetoed three Western-backed resolutions pressuring President Bashar al-Assad's regime to end the violence.

After the vote, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the council, ''Today's historic resolution is the first hopeful news on Syria in a long time.'' But he and others stressed that much more needs to be done to stop the fighting that has left more 100,000 dead.

''A red light for one form of weapons does not mean a green light for others,'' Ban said. ''This is not a license to kill with conventional weapons.''

US secretary of state John Kerry said the ''strong, enforceable, precedent-setting'' resolution shows that diplomacy can be so powerful ''that it can peacefully defuse the worst weapons of war''.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that the resolution does not automatically impose sanctions on Syria. The resolution calls for consequences if Syria fails to comply, but those will depend on the council passing another resolution in the event of non-compliance.

Russia, along with China, has been a consistent supporter of the Assad regime. Lavrov has obviously created a window to stop any punishment from being imposed.

But in a sign of the broad support for the resolution, all 15 council members signed on as co-sponsors.

For the first time, the council endorsed the roadmap for a political transition in Syria adopted by key nations in June 2012 and called for an international conference to be convened ''as soon as possible'' to implement it.

Only a few weeks ago, this vote would have seemed highly improbable: 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 these are 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 a few others refuse to accept that it was the Assad regime's doing.

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.

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UN votes unanimously to rid Syria of dirty weapons