Last updated: September 27, 2013 9:13 am

US and Russia agree Syria weapons resolution

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UN inspectors in Syria©EPA

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council have agreed a resolution that requires Syria to give up its chemical weapons but stops short of threatening automatic punishment if the Damascus regime fails to comply.

The resolution follows two weeks of tough negotiations between the US and Russia, which had refused to approve any text that authorised military force if Syria does not hand over its stocks of chemical weapons.

Under the new resolution Syria faces a legal obligation to give up its chemical weapons, but the UN must pass a second resolution if it is to enforce any of the possible penalties, which include sanctions and military force.

The full security council can vote on the resolution once the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has signed off on the US-Russia proposal to verify, secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. The Hague-based OPCW has scheduled a meeting for late on Friday to vote on the plan which, if approved, would clear the way for a UN vote later in the day.

Although the text of the UN resolution will raise questions about whether the Assad regime will feel compelled to comply, the agreement at the UN in New York represents a striking turn-around for the Obama administration which only three weeks ago had been facing the possible humiliation of Congressional defeat over its plan to launch air strikes against the Syrian regime in response to the August 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus.

Coming on the day that the Iranian and US foreign ministers held their first substantial meeting in 34 years, US and western diplomats also celebrated that the resolution was the first time that the UN had imposed binding obligations on Syria since the civil war started two-and-a-half years ago.

“This resolution will require the destruction of a category of weapons that the Syrian government has used ruthlessly and repeatedly against its own people,” said Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN. “In the span of a few weeks, the curtain that hid this secret chemical weapons programme has been lifted and the world is on the verge of requiring that these terrible weapons be destroyed.”

She added that as the resolution defined chemical weapons as a “threat to international peace and security”, the security council was establishing a new “international norm” against their use.

Sir Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador to the UN, said that the resolution also endorsed for the first time the document from the 2012 Syria peace conference in Geneva, which called for the Syrian government to begin a political transition.

He said ministers from several countries would meet at the UN on Friday to “discuss the next steps in a political settlement”, including possible dates for a new Geneva conference.

“There is a mood now of co-operation, particularly between the United States and the Russian Federation, and we hope that that will also facilitate a move towards a political settlement,” he said.

The resolution stems from an agreement reached two weeks ago by the US and Russia, which sets a series of firm deadlines for international inspectors to monitor the handing over of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks. Syria delivered an inventory of its weapons last weekend.

According to the resolution, the UN Security Council can decide to “impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter” in the event of Syrian non-compliance, but this would involve another vote at the UN. Inspectors from the OPCW would report to the security council every 30 days.

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