U.N. Security Council demands elimination of Syria chemical arms

Reuters

* Russia claims victory in deal on Syria U.N. resolution

* Obama calls resolution "potentially huge victory"

* Ban says vote not license to kill with conventional arms

By John Irish and Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 27 (Reuters) - The U.N. SecurityCouncil adopted a resolution on Friday that demands theeradication of Syria's chemical weapons but does not threatenautomatic punitive action against Syrian President Basharal-Assad's government if it does not comply.

The unanimous vote by the 15-member Security Council cappedweeks of intense diplomacy between Russia and the United States.It was based on a deal between the two countries reached inGeneva earlier this month following an Aug. 21 sarin nerve gasattack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds.

The U.S.-Russia deal averted punitive U.S. military actionagainst Assad's government, which Washington blamed for theAugust attack. The Syrian government and its ally, Russia,blamed anti-government rebels for the attack.

One provision of the resolution, described by councildiplomats as significant, formally endorses a plan for apolitical transition in Syria agreed on at an internationalconference in Geneva in June 2012.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after the vote thatthe big powers hoped to hold a peace conference on Syria inmid-November in Geneva.

He told the council the plan to eradicate Syria's chemicalweapons was "not a license to kill with conventional weapons."

"As we mark this important step, we must never forget thatthe catalog of horrors in Syria continues with bombs and tanks,grenades and guns," he said. "A red light for one form ofweapons does not mean a green light for others."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the vote showed that"actions have consequences."

"Our original objective was to degrade and deter Syria'schemical weapons capability. And the option of military forcethat President Obama has kept on the table could have achievedthat. But tonight's resolution accomplishes even more - throughpeaceful means, it will for the first time seek to eliminateentirely a nation's chemical weapons capability," he said.

The resolution does not allow for automatic punitive actionin the form of military strikes or sanctions if Syria does notcomply. At Russia's insistence, Friday's resolution makes cleara second council decision would be needed for that.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Security Council would be prepared to take punitive steps in theevent of confirmed violations of the resolution by either sidein the conflict.

"The United Nations Security Council ... will stand ready totake action under Chapter 7 of the (U.N.) charter, quiteclearly," he said.

A major sticking point to the resolution had been Russia'sopposition to writing it under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter,which covers the council's authority to enforce its decisionswith measures such as sanctions or military force.

Russia has made clear, however, it would not support the useof force against Assad's government, a major importer of Russianweapons.

Syria's ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar Ja'afari,said Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France, Qatar and the United Statesmust abide by the resolution and be held accountable if theycontinued assisting the rebels, who Assad's government hasaccused of using poison gas against the government army.

"You can't bring terrorists from all over the world and sendthem into Syria in the name of jihad and then pretend that youare working for peace," he said.

Ja'afari said the government was "fully committed to goingto Geneva" for the planned peace talks, which the rebels havealso suggested they would attend.

U.S. President Barack Obama earlier called the draft U.N.resolution a "potentially huge victory for the internationalcommunity" and described it as legally binding, verifiable andenforceable.

INSPECTORS HEAD TO SYRIA TUESDAY

A Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, saidthe resolution deflected attention from Obama's wavering on theSyrian conflict. "For the U.S., this resolution turns theattention away from its powerlessness," he said.

Assad agreed to destroy Syria's chemical weapons followingglobal outrage over a sarin gas attack in the Damascus suburbslast month - the world's deadliest chemical attack in 25 years -and the U.S. military threat.

Lavrov said earlier Russia was working "energetically" tohelp convene Syria peace talks.

"People continue to die and peaceful civilians suffer everyday in Syria," he told the U.N. General Assembly. "Virtually theonly possibility today to put an end to this turmoil is to movefrom a deadlock to the process of political settlement of theSyrian crisis."

As a precursor to the U.N. vote, the 41-member Organizationfor the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons approved a decision inThe Hague on Friday laying out procedures to rapidly verify anddestroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. The decision willsee inspectors sent to Syria starting on Tuesday.

Until recently, the council had been paralyzed on how todeal with the Syrian civil war. Russia, backed by China, hadvetoed three resolutions since October 2011 that would havecondemned Assad's government and threatened it with sanctions.

Western powers on the Security Council conceded they hadbacked away from many of their initial demands duringnegotiations. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkovclaimed a victory, saying Moscow had stood its ground onopposing any threats of military force against Syria.

"No concessions have been made," Ryabkov told Voice ofRussia radio. "The main thing is that the automatic use ofChapter 7 has been ruled out."

The United States, Britain and France originally wantedprovisions for automatic enforcement if Syria fails to comply.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told the council that"one resolution alone will not save Syria."

"This resolution must not only be voted and passed, it mustalso be implemented, and France will see to it," he said.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powerdescribed the draft resolution as "very significant" because,when adopted, it would be the first time during the conflictthat the council had imposed binding obligations on Assad.

"Taking chemical weapons away from a regime that just usedchemical weapons ... is a very intense form of accountability,"Power said on Thursday. "I don't think anybody can discount therole that the threat of limited military action played inexpediting and catalyzing this conversation."

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said he was pleased thedraft resolution called for "accountability" for thoseresponsible for the chemical attacks. He added that he wouldhave liked a reference to the International Criminal Court inThe Hague - something diplomats said Russia opposed.

The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have beenkilled in the civil war, after the government tried to crushpro-democracy protests, and more than half of Syria's 20 millionpeople need help.

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