U.N. votes to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons

Updated 10:57 PM ET

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-and-a-half-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.

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." Kerry said the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile will begin in November and be completed by the middle of next year.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks after the Security Council voted on a resolution that will require Syria to give up its chemical weapons during a United Nations Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria, Friday, Sept. 27, 2013, at U.N. headquarters.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

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.

"The U.N. Security Council's vote to adopt an impasse-breaking, binding resolutionto secure and eliminate Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles has much broader implications than meets the eye," said CBS News' Pamela Falk, from the U.N. on Friday evening, "because it represents a U.S.-Russia "reset" in terms of dealing with the deadlock at the Council on Syria, and it mandates the creation of long-overdue international peace talks on transition in Syria."

"The high-level interest in the vote on the resolution was illustrated at the U.N. by the unusual participation in many of the permanent members' minister-level participants, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, his Russian counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and the U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon," Falk reported.

Ban said the target date for a new peace conference in Geneva is mid-November.

"Earlier in the day," said Falk, "the opposition Syrian National Council President, Ahmad al-Jarba, told reporters in New York that he would participate in a "Geneva II" conference, as long as it had in its view, a transitional government with full executive powers, which is a goal stated in the resolution adopted by the Council," Falk said, "adding to the fact that the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had already agreed to participate."

"Diplomats said that the broader implication of the possible opening of talks with Iran, coupled with the breakthrough on the Syria resolution, means that the major parties involved in the Syrian civil war are, in principle,committed to finding a way to negotiate a solution to the two and one-half year conflict," Falk said.

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.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov votes to approve a resolution that will require Syria to give up its chemical weapons during a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria, Friday, Sept. 27, 2013 at U.N. headquarters.
AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stressed that the resolution does not automatically impose sanctions on Syria.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari accused unnamed nations of already giving the resolution a negative interpretation and trying to "derail it from its lofty purposes."

And Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have been harshly critical of Obama's policy on Syria, dismissed the resolution as "another triumph of hope over reality." It "contains no meaningful or immediate enforcement mechanisms, let alone a threat of the use of force for the Assad regime's non-compliance," they said in a statement that was highly skeptical that Russia would ever approve a threat of force for non-compliance.

The vote came just hours after the world's chemical weapons watchdog adopted a U.S.-Russian plan that lays out benchmarks and timelines for cataloguing, quarantining and ultimately destroying Syria's chemical weapons, their precursors and delivery systems.

The Security Council resolution enshrines the plan approved by Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, making it legally binding.

The agreement allows the start of a mission to rid Syria's regime of its estimated 1,000-ton chemical arsenal by mid-2014, significantly accelerating a destruction timetable that often takes years to complete.

"We expect to have an advance team on the ground (in Syria) next week," OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan told reporters at the organization's headquarters in The Hague, Netherlands immediately after its 41-member executive council approved the plan.

The recent flurry of diplomatic activity followed the Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb, and by President Barack Obama's threat of U.S. strikes in retaliation.

After 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 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.

Tough negotiations, primarily between Russia and the United States, followed on how Syria's stockpile would be destroyed.

The U.N. resolution's adoption was assured when the five veto-wielding permament members of the Security Council - Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain - signed off on the text on Thursday.

Lavrov told the council that his country will participate in the destruction.

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