American officials expressed great optimism Thursday night following a high-level meeting at the United Nations headquarters to begin the process of disarming the Bashar Assad regime of its chemical weapons stockpiles.
Representatives of the five permanent members of the U.S. Security Council plus Germany, known as P-5+1, agreed to the framework of a resolution that would force Syria to allow international inspectors to systematically take control or destroy chemical weapons inside the war-torn country.
The agreement was a particular milestone for Security Council action on Syria, which for the years of bloody Syrian civil war has been gridlocked by vetoes from Russia, a known backer of the Assad regime.
The resolution will produce a joint operation between the U.N. and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which will coordinate the mission.
A key provision of the resolution includes ramifications if Assad does not adhere to it. These could include economic sanctions or military strikes, but those would need to get further Security Council approval.
The full Security Council could vote on the resolution, which top delegates believe will pass, as early as Friday night.
"The final resolution is incredibly strong," a senior State Department official in New York said Thursday night. "It is the first time that we have had a legally binding resolution on Syria that I can remember."
"It is very strong, it is very tough, and it is really groundbreaking in terms of setting the precedent about chemical weapons," the official said.
The P-5+1 meeting later included a much-anticipated visit from the Iranian delegate, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who briefed the attendees on the future of Iran's controversial nuclear program for about 20 minutes in what observers called an "energetic" tone.
Zarif and Secretary of State John Kerry met following the meeting for a private discussion, considered the highest-level diplomatic talks between the two countries for decades.
"One meeting and a change in tone, which was welcome, doesn't answer those questions yet, and there's a lot of work to be done," Kerry said after. "We will engage in that work, obviously, and we hope very, very much – all of us – that we can get concrete results that will answer the outstanding questions regarding the [Iranian nuclear] program."
Spokespeople refused to discuss the content of the discussion, though the Iranian minister says the first steps on a nuclear agreement could begin as early as mid-October.
State-sponsored Iranian news service Fars reports Zarif sounded "a cautionary note and insisted on quick relief" from the Western-imposed sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy.
"I am satisfied with this first step. Now we have to see whether we can match our positive words with serious deeds so we can move forward," Zarif said after the meeting, according to Fars. "Of course as we move forward, there has to be removal of sanctions and in the end game there has to be a total lifting of all sanctions and both bilateral sanctions, unilateral sanctions as well as multilateral sanctions and U.N. sanctions and we hope to be able to move in that direction within a short span of time."