THE United Nations Security Council has adopted a resolution that demands the eradication of Syria’s chemical weapons but does not threaten automatic punitive action against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s government if it does not comply.
The unanimous vote by the 15-member Security Council capped weeks of intense diplomacy between Russia and the United States. It was based on a deal between the two countries reached in Geneva earlier this month following a sarin nerve gas attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds last month.
The US-Russia deal averted punitive US military action against Assad’s government, which Washington blamed for the August attack. The Syrian government and its ally, Russia, in turn blamed anti-government rebels.
One provision of the resolution formally endorses a plan for a political transition in Syria agreed on at an international conference in Geneva in June 2012.
UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said after the vote that the big powers hoped to hold a peace conference on Syria in mid-November also in Geneva.
He told the council the plan to eradicate Syria’s chemical weapons was “not a licence to kill with conventional weapons”.
“As we mark this important step, we must never forget that the catalogue of horrors in Syria continues with bombs and tanks, grenades and guns,” he said. “A red light for one form of weapons does not mean a green light for others.”
US secretary of state John Kerry said the vote showed that “actions have consequences”.
“Our original objective was to degrade and deter Syria’s chemical weapons capability. And the option of military force that President [Barack]Obama has kept on the table could have achieved that. This resolution accomplishes even more – through peaceful means, it will for the first time seek to eliminate entirely a nation’s chemical weapons capability,” he said.
The resolution does not allow for automatic punitive action in the form of military strikes or sanctions if Syria does not comply. At Russia’s insistence, Friday’s resolution makes clear a second council decision would be needed for that.
But Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said the Security Council would be prepared to take punitive steps in the event of confirmed violations of the resolution by either side in the conflict.
“The United Nations Security Council … will stand ready to take action under Chapter 7 of the (UN) charter, quite clearly,” he said.
Foreign Secretary William Hague has welcomed the “ground-breaking” resolution to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, but called for greater efforts to end the suffering of its people.
He said the unanimous UN Security Council resolution was about “ensuring” that the horrors of the Assad regime’s chemical attacks never happened again.
He claimed the focus was now on “the everyday horrors of the dire humanitarian situation” in Syria ahead of the Geneva conference.