UN Security Council demands elimination of Syria chemical arms

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The UN Security Council adopted a resolution on Friday 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 ended 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 an August 21 sarin nerve gas attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds. 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, blamed anti-government rebels for the attack.

One provision of the resolution, described by council diplomats as significant, formally endorses a plan for a political transition in Syria agreed on at an international conference in Geneva in June 2012.

US President Barack Obama earlier called the draft UN resolution a “potentially huge victory for the international community” and described it as legally binding, verifiable and enforceable.

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the resolution deflected attention from Obama’s wavering on the Syrian conflict. “For the US, this resolution turns the attention away from its powerlessness,” he said.

Assad agreed to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons following global outrage over a sarin gas attack in the Damascus suburbs last month – the world’s deadliest chemical attack in 25 years. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia continued to work “energetically” to help convene Syria peace talks. “People continue to die and peaceful civilians suffer every day in Syria,” he told the UN General Assembly. “Virtually the only possibility today to put an end to this turmoil is to move from a deadlock to the process of political settlement of the Syrian crisis.”

As a precursor to the UN vote, the 41-member Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons approved a decision in The Hague yesterday laying out procedures to rapidly verify and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. The decision will see inspectors sent to Syria starting on Tuesday.

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