UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday night to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile, a landmark decision aimed at taking poison gas off the battlefield in the escalating 2½-year-old civil war.
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 Assad’s regime to end the violence.
“Today’s historic resolution is the first hopeful news on Syria in a long time,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council immediately after the vote.
Ban stressed, however, that eliminating chemical weapons from the Syrian conflict “is not a license to kill with conventional weapons.”
U.S. 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.” He said the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile will begin in November and be completed by the middle of next year.
For the first time, the council endorsed the road map 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. Ban said the target date for a new peace conference in Geneva is mid-November.
As a sign of the broad support for the resolution, all 15 council members signed on as co-sponsors.
The resolution calls for consequences if Syria fails to comply, but those will depend on the council passing another resolution in the event of noncompliance. That will give Assad ally Russia the means to stop any punishment from being imposed.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that the resolution does not automatically impose sanctions on Syria.
The Security Council vote came just hours after the world’s chemical weapons watchdog in the Hague, Netherlands, adopted a U.S.-Russian plan that lays out benchmarks and timelines for cataloging, quarantining and ultimately destroying Syria’s chemical weapons, their precursors and delivery systems.
The council resolution enshrines the plan approved by Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, making it legally binding.