The UN Security Council has voted unanimously to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
The vote late on Friday was the first resolution passed on the Syrian conflict since it began in March 2011, after Russia and China had previously vetoed three Western-backed resolutions pressuring President Bashar Assad’s regime to end the violence.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the council immediately after the vote that he aimed to hold long-sought talks aimed at organising a political transition in Syria in mid-November.
“All violence must end. All the guns must fall silent,” Ban stressed as he hailed the “historic resolution” on Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile, stressing it was not “a license to kill” with conventional arms.
Bashar Ja’afari, Syria’s ambassador to the UN, said the government was “fully committed” to attending the proposed peace conference.
Ja’afari said the resolution covered most of the concerns of Damascus and that the countries supporting rebels – Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, France and the US – should also abide by it.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, the world’s chemical weapons watchdog, had earlier approved the disarmament plan for Syria that paved the way for the UN vote.
For the first time, the UNSC 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 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.
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said after the vote the UN Security Council would be prepared to take punitive steps in the event of confirmed violations of a resolution demanding the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal.
“The United Nations Security Council […] will stand ready to take action under Chapter VII of the charter, quite
clearly,” Lavrov said, in reference to the part of the UN charter covering the council’s power to enforce its decisions with sanctions or military force.
However, James Bays, Al Jazeera’s diplomatic editor, said it was significant that Lavrov had pointed out that the resolution passed in the UN did not threaten the use of force.
“It would trigger another resolution that would threaten the use of force,” Bays said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said that Syria would face punishment if it failed to comply, but he hailed the landmark vote.
“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.
“Provided this resolution is fully implemented, we will have eliminated one of the largest chemical weapons programmes on Earth from one of the most volatile places on Earth.”
Bays said the vote paved the way for the start of the work for the chemical weapons inspectors.
“The big question then is whether Syria will comply,” he said.
Bays earlier put the point to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.
“We will commit because we are determined to go forward in the respect of [the agreement of] destroying the chemical weapons,” Muallem told Bays at the UN headquarters in New York.
OPCW spokesman Luhan said that a there was a “very minor change” to a draft document seen by AFP news agency and “the timetable was not disturbed”.
The draft OPCW document said the watchdog would start inspections no later than Tuesday, and would eliminate all of Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014.