The UN Security Council unanimously passed a landmark resolution on Friday ordering the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons and condemning a murderous poison gas attack in Damascus.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who called the resolution “the first hopeful news on Syria in a long time,” said he hopes to convene a peace conference in the middle of November.
The major powers overcame a prolonged deadlock to approve the first council resolution on the conflict, which is now 30 months old with more than 100,000 dead.
Resolution 2118, the result of bruising negotiations between the US and Russia, gives international binding force to a plan drawn up by the two to eliminate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical arms.
The plan calls for Syria’s estimated 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons to be put under international control by the middle of next year. Experts say the timetable is very tight.
International experts are expected to start work in Syria next week. Britain and China announced that they will offer finance to the disarmament operation.
Divisions over the war remained clear in comments by their foreign ministers after the vote.
“Should the regime fail to act, there will be consequences,” US Secretary of State John Kerry warned the 15-member council after the vote sealing a US-Russian agreement.
However, Kerry hailed the resolution.
“The Security Council has shown that when we put aside politics for the common good, we are still capable of doing big things,” he said.
There are no immediate sanctions over a chemical weapons attack, an event that UN experts confirmed, yet it allows for a new vote on possible measures if the Russia-US plan is breached.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed that there were no automatic punitive measures, and that the resolution applied equally to the Syrian opposition.
He said the council would take “actions which are commensurate with the violations, which will have to proven 100 percent.”
Russia, al-Assad’s main ally, has rejected any suggestion of sanctions or military force against al-Assad. It has already used its veto power as a permanent Security Council member to block three Western-drafted resolutions on Syria.
The resolution “condemns in the strongest terms any use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, in particular the attack on Aug. 21, 2013, in violation of international law.”
The US says the attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta left more than 1,400 dead. It blamed al-Assad’s government for the sarin gas assault and threatened a military strike over the attack.
The government has denied responsibility.
Should Syria not comply with the resolution, the Security Council members agreed to “impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.”
The charter can authorize the use of sanctions or military force. However, diplomats said Russia would fiercely oppose any force against its ally. All sides agreed that new action will require a new vote.
Russia also rebuffed calls by European powers Britain and France for the Ghouta attack to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
The resolution expressed “strong conviction” that those responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria “should be held accountable.”
It formally endorsed a decision taken hours earlier in The Hague by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to accept the Russia-US disarmament plan.
Ban said the resolution “will ensure that the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons program happens as soon as possible and with the utmost transparency and accountability.”
Ban also told the Security Council he wanted to hold a new Syria peace conference in November.
“We are aiming for a conference in mid-November,” Ban said, adding that foreign ministers from Britain, China, France, Russia and the US had agreed to make sure the two sides in the conflict negotiate in “good faith.”
A first peace conference was held in June last year, but there has been no follow up because of divisions in the Syrian opposition and the international community.
Ban will start contacts with his Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi next week on setting the firm date and who will attend the new meeting, diplomats said.
The Security Council resolution gave backing to last year’s conference declaration, which stated that there should be a transitional government in Syria with full executive powers. It also determined that the new peace conference would be to decide how to implement the accord.