The diplomatic drive to purge Syria of its chemical weapons accelerated Friday, as the full 15-member United Nations Security Council approved a breakthrough resolution to ensure Syrian compliance, and the organization responsible for carrying out the destruction of those munitions announced a timetable that starts Tuesday, sooner than some had expected.
The Security Council resolution is aimed at coercing the government of President Bashar al-Assad to honor a pledge to give up its chemical weapons, which have been used at least once in Syria’s civil war with horrific effects. The measure was a compromise completed Thursday night by the Council’s five permanent members: Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.
Although the resolution does not automatically threaten the use of force if Syria reneges — a Western concession granted to Russia — it nonetheless represents the Security Council’s most significant action to date on the Syria conflict. Approval by all 15 members came swiftly Friday night.
In a speech to the Council, Secretary of State John Kerry cast the resolution as an important precedent in establishing that chemical weapons are “a threat to international peace and security anywhere they might be used.”
“We are here united tonight in support of our belief that international institutions do matter, international norms matter,” Mr. Kerry said.
Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, pointed out that enforcement measures were not automatic; any punitive action would require a second resolution.
The vote was conducted shortly after the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the group in The Hague that oversees the international treaty banning them, approved a schedule for inspections of chemical weapons storage and production sites in Syria, with work to start Oct. 1 and a goal of elimination by mid-2014.
Optimism created by the actions on chemical weapons seemed to spill over into the efforts aimed at bringing the Syrian conflict to a peaceful end. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said he was now hoping to convene a peace conference in Geneva by mid-November.
The pace reflected a dizzying rush of diplomacy that seemed unthinkable just a few weeks ago, when the Obama administration was threatening Mr. Assad with missile strikes in response to an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus that left more than 1,400 people dead, including more than 400 children.
Mr. Obama, who contended that the use of such weapons had crossed a threshold of tolerance that could not go unaddressed, scrubbed the military strikes amid rising criticism at home and abroad that he risked entangling the United States in another war. His reversal was improbably aided by Russia, which devised a diplomatic alternative in which Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons under a Sept. 14 agreement negotiated by Mr. Lavrov and Mr. Kerry.
The quickened work on the resolution came as United Nations weapons inspectors said they were investigating reports that chemical munitions had been used seven times in Syria, including three after the Aug. 21 attack.
In his General Assembly speech representing Russia earlier on Friday, Mr. Lavrov said the resolution had been possible partly because of what he called the West’s realization that the threat of military force to solve conflicts was “ineffective, meaningless and destructive.”
The Russian foreign minister also said he hoped the resolution would provide momentum to convene a conference aimed at purging the Middle East of all such unconventional weapons.
Despite the new level of cooperation between Russia and the United States, Mr. Lavrov seemed to frame his General Assembly speech partly as a criticism of the Obama administration. Three days earlier, Mr. Obama told the General Assembly that the United States would remain heavily engaged in the Middle East and leave all options open, including the use of force, to protect its interests.
“It is alarming to hear the statements on the right to use military force to ensure one’s own interest in the Middle East region under the pretext of the ‘remaining demand for leadership’ in international affairs,” Mr. Lavrov said, according to a translation of his speech posted on the United Nations Web site. “All the recent history testifies that no state — no matter how big or powerful — can cope alone with the challenges of that scope faced by mankind today.”
Mr. Lavrov, whose country has long supported Mr. Assad, also suggested in his speech that Western countries opposed to Mr. Assad because of his repression of the democratic opposition were increasingly coming around to Russia’s view that the greater danger in Syria lay in its growing attraction to jihadists.
“The desire to portray in a simplified way the developments in the Arab worlds as the struggle of democracies against tyrannies or the good against the evil has long obscured the problems associated with the rising wave of extremism which spills over to other regions today as well,” he said.
Diplomats have been careful to point out that the Security Council resolution on chemical weapons does not necessarily portend progress in ending the overall Syrian conflict, which has left more than 100,000 people dead and millions uprooted since it began as a peaceful antigovernment uprising in March 2011.
Efforts by Mr. Lavrov, Mr. Kerry, Mr. Ban and the United Nations special envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, to arrange a peace conference in Geneva, known in diplomatic shorthand as Geneva 2, have floundered for months.
Despite Mr. Ban’s prediction on Friday of a mid-November date, some significant obstacles remain.
Russia and the United States have differed over participation by Iran, which has close ties to the Syrian government and has aided Mr. Assad’s military. Russia has argued in favor of including Iran, but Western nations have said Iran must first make clear that it accepts the aim of the talks: a transfer of power to a transitional government that would not include Mr. Assad.
Ahmad al-Jarba, the president of the Syrian opposition coalition, said at a news conference on Friday in New York that he was prepared to participate but wanted assurances of a “clear timetable” for achieving results, not “an open-ended dialogue with the regime.” Also, Mr. Jarba said, all foreign groups, like Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia aligned with Mr. Assad, should be withdrawn.
Mr. Jarba’s coalition suffered a blow this week when about a dozen rebel groups inside Syria issued a statement repudiating their ties with the coalition, asserting that its members, living in exile, were detached from the bitter fighting inside Syria.
Mr. Jarba said he would be meeting with the leaders of some of those breakaway groups but refrained from criticizing them, apparently so as not to alienate them further and risk further fracturing of his coalition, which has been an underlying problem.