UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council unanimously passed a landmark resolution Friday ordering the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons and condemning a murderous poison gas attack in Damascus.
The major powers overcame a prolonged deadlock to approve the first council resolution on the conflict, which is now 30 months old with more than 100,000 dead.
UN leader Ban Ki-moon, a critic of the council's paralysis, called the resolution “the first hopeful news on Syria in a long time”. Ban also said he hopes to convene a peace conference in mid-November.
Resolution 2118, the result of bruising negotiations between the United States and Russia, gives international binding force to a plan drawn up by the two to eliminate President Bashar al-Assad's chemical arms.
There are no immediate sanctions over a chemical weapons attack confirmed by the UN.
But it allows for a new vote on possible measures if the Russia-US plan is breached.
Divisions over the war remained clear, however, in comments by their foreign ministers after the vote.
“Should the regime fail to act, there will be consequences,” US Secretary of State John Kerry warned the 15-member council after the vote sealing the US-Russian agreement.
But Kerry hailed the resolution.
“The Security Council has shown that when we put aside politics for the common good, we are still capable of doing big things,” he said.
No automatic punitive measures
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed that there were no automatic punitive measures and that the resolution applied equally to the Syrian opposition.
He said the council would take “actions which are commensurate with the violations, which will have to proven 100 per cent”.
Russia, Assad's main ally, has rejected any suggestion of sanctions or military force against Assad.
It has already used its veto power as a permanent Security Council member to block three Western-drafted resolutions on Syria.
The resolution “condemns in the strongest terms any use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, in particular the attack on August 21, 2013, in violation of international law.”
The United States says the attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta left more than 1,400 dead. It blamed Assad's government for the sarin gas assault and threatened a military strike over the attack.
The government has denied responsibility.
Should Syria not comply with the resolution, the Security Council members agreed to “impose measures under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.
”Syria attacks must be 'accountable'
The charter can authorise the use of sanctions or military force. But diplomats said Russia would fiercely oppose any force against its ally. All sides agreed that new action will require a new vote.
Russia also rebuffed calls by European powers Britain and France for the Ghouta attack to be referred to the International Criminal Court.
The resolution expressed “strong conviction” that those responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria “should be held accountable.”
It formally endorsed a decision taken hours earlier in The Hague by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to accept the Russia-US disarmament plan.
The plan called for Syria's estimated 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons to be put under international control by mid-2014. Experts say the timetable is very tight.
International experts are expected to start work in Syria next week.
Britain and China announced that they will offer finance to the disarmament operation.
Ban said the resolution “will ensure that the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons program happens as soon as possible and with the utmost transparency and accountability.”
Ban also told the Security Council he wanted to hold a new Syria peace conference in November.
“We are aiming for a conference in mid-November,” Ban said, adding that foreign ministers from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States had agreed to make sure the two sides in the conflict negotiate in “good faith”.
A first peace conference was held in June 2012 but there has been no follow up because of divisions in the Syrian opposition and the international community.
Ban will start contacts with his Syria peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi next week on setting the firm date and who will attend the new meeting, diplomats said.
The Security Council resolution gave backing to the 2012 conference declaration, which stated that there should be a transitional government in Syria with full executive powers.
It also determined that the new peace conference would decide how to implement the accord.
A car bomb north of Damascus that killed at least 30 people earlier in the day and 11 more deaths in a government air raid highlighted the continued slaughter in Syria's long-running civil war.
“We must never forget that the catalog of horrors in Syria continues with bombs and tanks, grenades and guns,” said Ban.