Sunday, March 9, 2014
By EDITH M. LEDERER and MATTHEW LEE, The Associated Press
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 2 1/2-year conflict.
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, 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," the U.N. chief said. "This 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.
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. That will give Assad ally Russia the means to stop any punishment from being imposed.
As 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.
Ban said the target date for a new peace conference in Geneva is mid-November.
Whether the council can remain united to press for an end to the conflict remains to be seen.
"We know despite its clear usefulness, one resolution alone will not save Syria," France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said after the vote.
The resolution authorizes the U.N. to send an advance team to assist the OPCW's activities in Syria. It asks Secretary-General Ban to submit recommendations to the Security Council within 10 days of the resolution's adoption on the U.N. role in eliminating Syria's chemical weapons program.
"Syria cannot select or reject the inspectors," Kerry said. "Syria must give those inspectors unfettered access to any and all sites and any and all people."
The resolution requires the council to review compliance with the OPCW's plans within 30 days, and every month after that.
In an indication of the enormity of the task ahead, the OPCW appealed for donations to fund the disarmament, saying it will have to hire new weapons inspectors and chemical experts.
To that end, Britain's foreign minister announced after Friday's vote that the UK would donate $3 million to OPCW Syria Trust fund.
The OPCW destruction plan calls on Syria to give inspectors unfettered access to any site suspected of chemical weapons involvement, even if Syria's government did not identify the location. That gives the inspectors unusually broad authority.
Associated Press writers Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, Toby Sterling in Amsterdam, Amir Bibawy at the United Nations and Albert Aji in Damascus contributed to this report.