UNITED NATIONS: The five permanent members of the deeply divided U.N. Security Council reached agreement Thursday on a resolution to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, a major step in taking the most controversial weapon off the battlefield of the world’s deadliest ongoing conflict.
The draft resolution’s demands that Syria abandon its chemical stockpile and allow unfettered access to chemical weapons experts are legally binding. But if Syria fails to comply, the council will need to adopt a second resolution to impose measures under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which allows for military and nonmilitary actions to promote peace and security.
Nonetheless, after 2 1/2 years of inaction and paralysis, the agreement represents a breakthrough for the Security Council and rare unity between Russia, which supports Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, and the United States, which backs the opposition.
Russia and the United States jointly introduced the text to the 10 non-permanent council members Thursday night, supported by the other permanent members, Britain, France and China. A vote on the resolution depends on how the full council responds to the draft, and on how soon an international group that oversees the global treaty on chemical weapons can adopt a plan for securing and destroying Syria’s stockpile.
The Russia, U.S. and British ambassadors said the executive board of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons may meet Friday in The Hague, Netherlands to agree on a document setting out its exact duties. This would enable the Security Council to possibly vote late Friday at the earliest, the ambassadors said.
The U.N. resolution will include the text of the OPCW’s declaration and make it legally binding, so the OPCW must act first.
The spark for the recent flurry of diplomatic activity was the Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb, and President Barack Obama’s threat of U.S. strikes in retaliation.
After U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Assad could avert U.S. military action by turning over “every single bit of his chemical weapons” to international control within a week, Russia quickly agreed. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed an agreement in Geneva on Sept. 13 to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control for later destruction, and Assad’s government accepted.
“Just two weeks ago, tonight’s outcome seemed utterly unimaginable,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters after the Security Council meeting. “Two weeks ago the Syrian regime had not even acknowledged the existence of its chemical weapons stockpiles.”
She said the resolution’s adoption would mark the first time since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011 that the council has imposed binding obligations on Syria of any kind.
“If implemented fully, this resolution will eliminate one of the largest previously undeclared chemical weapons programs in the world,” Power said.