Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday announced that the U.S. and Russia had reached a deal on Syria’s chemical weapons.
Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Geneva that a “framework” was in place after three days of talks that would allow for the removal or destruction of Syria’s chemical stockpile by mid-2014, with international inspectors on the ground no later than November of this year.
Kerry said that Syria had one week to provide a “comprehensive listing” of all its chemical weapons stockpiles and submit to United Nations inspectors at all sites.
“If fully implemented,” said the secretary of State, “this framework can provide greater protection and security to the world.”
Kerry said that if Damascus failed to comply with the U.S.-Russia deal, the matter would be referred to the UN Security Council, which could take steps to punish Syria. It was unclear if such actions would include military force.
Kerry vowed, however, that the U.S. would vigorously “verify” Syrian compliance.
“There can be no games,” he warned.
President Obama in a statement on Saturday hailed the agreement as an “important, concrete step toward the goal of moving Syria's chemical weapons under international control so that they may ultimately be destroyed.”
“The international community expects the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments,” he continued.
Obama said the U.S. would work with its allies to ensure that “there are consequences should the Assad regime not comply with the framework agreed today. And, if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act.”
The State Department said the agreement would facilitate the “destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program (CW) in the soonest and safest manner” in a statement Saturday.
“The United States and the Russian Federation commit to work together towards prompt adoption of a UN Security Council resolution,” the statement said.
Kerry’s announcement could mark a diplomatic breakthrough for the Obama administration, which has sought to rally support for punishing Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom it accuses of using chemical weapons in an attack on civilians last month. Assad and opposition forces have waged a bloody two-year civil war.
Obama initially sought congressional authorization for a U.S. military strike on Syria but delayed those plans in the midst of strong opposition on Capitol Hill.
Last Tuesday the president said he would launch talks with Russia which offered to broker a plan to help Syria hand over its chemical stockpile to the international community in hopes of averting military action.
Republican lawmakers expressed skepticism that the effort would be successful, citing doubts about whether Assad and Russia, one of his staunchest allies, would comply with any agreement.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said “absent the threat of force, it's unclear to me how Syrian compliance will be possible under the terms of any agreement.”
“Syria's willingness to follow through is very much an open question, but I remain supportive of a strong diplomatic solution to Syria's use of chemical weapons,” he added.
Damascus has denied using chemical weapons, instead blaming rebel groups for the Aug. 21 attack, a claim Russia has backed.
Syria also refused to acknowledge that it had chemical weapons as recently as last Tuesday, before Assad changed course and said he would sign an international treaty banning their use.
Susan Crabtree and Brian Hughes contributed