The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously on Friday night to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons — putting the weight of previously divided world powers behind the recent deal between the U.S. and Russia to pressure Syrian President Bashar Assad into giving up his chemical stockpile.
While the resolution falls short of carrying a specific military threat against Mr. Assad if he does not comply with weapons inspectors going forward, world leaders hailed the development as a major breakthrough in the paralysis that has gripped the Security Council since the war between Syrian military forces and opposition rebel fighters began in Syria more than two years ago.
Previously, Russia and China previously vetoed three Western-backed resolutions that had sought to pressure Mr. Assad’s government to stop using military force against its own citizens. But both nations backed the new resolution, which Russia hailed as a major success on Friday night.
Separately, the resolution also endorses a broadly-framed roadmap for a potential political transition in Syria. While the past year saw negotiations among world powers stalled on the issue, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Friday night that mid-November would be a tentative date for new Syria-focused peace conference to be held in Geneva.
Partial victory for U.S.
The Securitiy Council resolution calls for consequences if Syria fails to comply on the chemical weapons front — but the language agreed to member nations remained somewhat vague about precisely what such consequences could entail.
If U.N. weapons inspectors conclude that Mr. Assad is suddenly not complying, they can trigger new action on the Security Council, which would then debate the passage of separate, future resolution that could approve a military strike against Syria.
Since the window would then be open for Russia to veto such a resolution, most foreign policy insiders read Friday night’s development as only a partial victory for the Obama administration.
At issue is that fact that administration lost the fight for a Security Council resolution that would carry with it the specific threat of an international military action against Syria in the event that Mr. Assad is seen to be attempting to hoodwink U.N. weapons inspectors during the weeks and months ahead.
In order to get Russia to agree to the passage of any Security Council action this week, the Obama administration was forced to settle for what ultimately amounted to a softer resolution.
The development also signaled a significant back-step by the White House, which less than a month ago had threatened the possibility of a unilateral U.S. military strike against Syria as retribution for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that occurred near the Syrian capitol of Damascus — and which U.S. intelligence community says was carried out by forces loyal to Mr. Assad.
The concession aside, the Obama administration hailed Friday night’s Security Council resolution as a tremendous diplomatic triumph, since it means the wider international community is now putting its weight behind a major public push to rid Syria and Mr. Assad of chemical weapons.
“Five weeks ago, the world saw rows upon rows of murdered children lying on a hospital floor alone or beside slain parents, all wrapped in un-bloodied burial shrouds. And the world’s conscience was shocked, but our collective resolved hardened,” Secretary of State John F. Kerry said after the resolution had passed.
“Tonight, with a strong, enforceable, precedent-setting resolution requiring Syria to give up its chemical weapons, the United Nations Security Council has demonstrated that diplomacy can be so powerful, it can peacefully defuse the worst weapons of war,” Mr. Kerry said.
Heading into the vote, President Obama described the resolution as “a potentially huge victory for the international community.”
“I think indicates what I had hoped for when I spoke at the United Nations just this week, that we have an international community that is not just gathering to talk, but also is able to take concerted action on behalf of enforcing international norms and preserving everybody’s security,” Mr. Obama told reporters in the Oval Office during a meeting with the prime minister of India.
Mr. Obama said that he “always expressed a preference for resolving this diplomatically.”
“So we are very hopeful about the prospects for what can be accomplished, but obviously there is a lot of work to be done,” Mr. Obama said.