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U.N. Security Council Approves Syria Chemical Arms Deal


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. The United Nations Security Council has finally broken its deadlock on the Syrian conflict. Last night, it unanimously passed a resolution to ensure that Syria follows through on its commitment to get rid of it chemical weapons stockpiles. But while the resolution is legally binding, Russia made certain that it doesn't open the door for any military action against Syria or automatic sanctions.

For that, the council would have to meet again, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called it the first good news for Syria in a long time. For Secretary of State John Kerry it was the culmination of weeks of tough diplomacy, sparked by the August 21st chemical weapons attack that left over 1,000 Syrians dead, hundreds of them children.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: The United Nations Security Council has demonstrated that diplomacy can be so powerful it can peacefully diffuse the worst weapons of war.

KELEMEN: Kerry met several times in the course of the week with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to hash out language all members could accept. It requires Syria to give up all of its chemical weapon stockpiles by the middle of next year.

KERRY: Syria cannot select or reject the inspectors. Syria must give those inspectors unfetted(ph) access to any and all sites and to any and all people. We also wanted a resolution that would be enforced, and again, that is what the Security Council has adopted.

KELEMEN: Lavrov pointed out that the Security Council would have to vote on any punitive steps if Syria doesn't comply. Syria's ambassador to the U.N. says his country will cooperate. Kerry and Lavrov are also trying to bring the war inside Syria around the negotiating table in Geneva to set up a transitional government. U.N. officials are aiming for November.

Iran's president, Hasan Rouhani, also wants to take part in those talks. Like Russia, Iran is a major backer of Bashar al-Assad's regime and Rouhani told reporters through a interpreter yesterday that there is no military solution to this conflict.

PRESIDENT HASAN ROUHANI: (Through Translator) We also believe that countries that can shape the future of Syria should actually walk hand in hand in order to put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people first and foremost.

KELEMEN: The U.S. may now be willing to have Iran at the table, especially after yesterday's historic phone call between Rouhani and President Obama. The U.S. wants to see Iran's support plans for a political transition in Syria. The Iranian leader says it's up to the Syrians to decide Assad's future. As for the chemical weapons issue, he said his country, a victim of Iraqi chemical weapons attacks in the 1990s, is glad to see Syria agree to give up its stockpiles.

Again, he spoke through an interpreter.

ROUHANI: (Through Translator) We believe that the application of chemical weapons in the region is extremely dangerous. We seriously condemn its use.

KELEMEN: But most of his concerns focused on the extremists fighting in Syria. The Iranian leader compared them to bacteria that need to be contained. The head of the Syrian Opposition Council, Ahmad Jarba, says all foreign fighters must leave Syria and that includes Iranian and Hezbollah forces. Jarba told reporters he's ready to join in the Geneva talks, though he seems to have little influence on the grounds.

AHMAD JARBA: (Through Translator) The goal of Geneva must be quite clear. It's about transition to democracy. It's not about an open-ended dialogue with the regime as somebody wants to do it that way. And that has to be done within a clear timetable.

KELEMEN: And while Jarba says he's pleased with the U.N. Security Council action, he says it will do little to resolve the plight of millions of Syrians. Security Council diplomats hope to move forward on the humanitarian issue now that the diplomatic deadlock over Syria has been broken. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.