Diplomats move quickly on Syria's chemical weapons. Will action on the ground follow? (+video)
The UN Security Council voted unanimously Friday night to destroy Syria's chemical weapons. Inspectors are expected to arrive next week, but critics wonder if Syria will fully comply.
Diplomatically, at least, things are moving very rapidly toward ridding the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons.
Friday evening, the full 15-member United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to control and then destroy such weapons, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said was “the first hopeful news on Syria in a long time.”
In the world of international diplomacy – especially regarding disarmament involving weapons of mass destruction – the steps leading to this latest development came with head-spinning speed.
Just a few weeks ago, the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad refused to acknowledge that it had chemical weapons, even though there was strong evidence that regime forces killed hundreds of civilians in a large-scale chemical attack Aug. 21 in a Damascus suburb aimed at rebels fighting in Syria’s long and costly civil war.
When President Obama threatened to punish the regime with a limited military attack, positioning US Navy destroyers within cruise missile range, Secretary of State John Kerry made what seemed to be an off-hand comment to the effect that Assad could avoid such an attack by turning over “every single bit of his chemical weapons” to international control.
Within hours, Russia – Syria’s chief ally – picked up on Kerry’s suggestion, and Syria quickly agreed to such disarmament. Within days, Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had worked out an agreement which lays out a path and a time frame for removing or destroying all of Syria’s chemical weapons and equipment in a year’s time.
The UN Security Council vote Friday came just hours after the world's chemical weapons watchdog – the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – adopted the US-Russian plan, which lays out benchmarks and timelines for cataloguing, quarantining, and ultimately destroying Syria's chemical weapons, their precursors and delivery systems.
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.