The UN Security Council has approved a resolution on the dismantling of Syria's chemical weapons program. The vote followed unanimous approval of the plan by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Members of the UN Security Council voted unanimously on a resolution to destroy the Syrian regime's chemical weapons as quickly as possible. The decision late on Friday came hours after the international authority tasked with implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention - the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) - had approved the plan.
"Today's historic resolution is the first hopeful news on Syria in a long time," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Council late on Friday.
According to the resolution, the UN will work to assist the OPCW in its effort to eliminate all of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons by mid-2014.
"All sides share a common interest in the permanent destruction of these weapons," Ban said.
Ban called on both the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian opposition to cooperate with the international community in the dismantling of the chemical weapons arsenal. He also called on the Syrian government and Syrian opposition to meet in Geneva in mid-November for peace talks.
Punitive action possible
The 15-member council also agreed that any sign of noncompliance by the Assad regime would prompt a vote aimed at taking punitive action against Damascus by passing another resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, either in the form of sanctions or military action.
"[The] unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in the Syrian Republic," would prompt the Security Council to take action, according to the resolution adopted on Friday.
However, it remains questionable whether a second vote would pass, as Assad's ally Russia could block any efforts to punish Syria.
Among the top diplomats who praised the unanimous vote on Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the international cooperation as a sign of what the council can accomplish.
"The Security Council has shown that when we put aside politics for the common good, we are still capable of doing big things," Kerry said on Friday.
"We must work together with the same determination, the same cooperation that has brought us here tonight, in order to end the conflict that continues to tear Syria apart," he added.
Fighting in Syria has claimed more than 100,000 lives since March 2011 and driven some 2 million refugees into neighboring countries, according to UN estimates.
OPCW paves the way for resolution
Several hours before the UN Security Council met on Friday evening, the 41-member body based in The Hague agreed on the proposal.
According to the OPCW's website, the group agreed to implement its zero-tolerance policy on the "development, production, stockpiling and use" of chemical weapons in Syria by requiring Assad's stockpile to be destroyed by mid-2014.
They also stipulated that the UN Security Council must set "ambitious milestones" for the confiscation and destruction of all of Assad's chemical weapons.
"This decision sends an unmistakable message that the international community is coming together to work for peace in Syria, beginning with the elimination of chemical weapons in that country," OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said in a statement on Friday.
"We will not allow the significant challenges to obscure the vision of peace and security that is embedded in this noble undertaking," the OPCW director-general said.
The deployment of sarin gas in a Damascus suburb on August 21, in which more than 1,400 people were killed, and subsequent confirmation of the attack by UN investigators sparked a sense of urgency within the international community to address the illegal use of chemical weapons in Syria.
After President Barack Obama threatened to launch a military strike against Assad's regime in response to the August 21 attack, Moscow intervened and proposed that Damascus hand over its chemical weapons as a peaceful solution to the crisis.
Though the findings of the UN investigative team did not identify the culprit of the attack, the United States has said the evidence provided pointed undeniably to the Assad regime. Syria's president has thus far agreed to comply with the demands to hand over the weapons.
kms/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)