The United States and Russia agreed a framework to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014 and impose UN penalties if the Assad regime fails to comply.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, (L), shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, (R), following meetings regarding Syria, at a news conference at the Geneva, Switzerland. EPA / Martial Trezzini
US Secretary of State John Kerry, (L), shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, (R), following meetings regarding Syria, at a news conference at the Geneva, Switzerland. EPA / Martial Trezzini

geneva // Russia and the United States gave the Assad regime one week to produce a full list of its chemical weapons stockpile and where it is manufactured and stored.

International inspectors will be in Syria by November and should have completed their initial work by the end of the month.

Washington and Moscow will press immediately for a UN Security Council resolution that can authorise both the use of force and non-military measures if Syria fails to comply.

The deal was announced on Saturday after 48 hours of intense negotiations in Geneva between the US secretary of state John Kerry and the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

“The world will now expect the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments,” Mr Kerry said. “There can be no games, no room for avoidance or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime.”

Mr Kerry said the US believed the threat of force was necessary to back diplomacy, and US officials have said Barack Obama retains the right to launch military strikes without UN approval.

“I have no doubt that the combination of the threat of force and the willingness to pursue diplomacy helped to bring us to this moment,” Mr Kerry said.

Mr Obama made it clear that “if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act”.

Russia, which already has rejected three resolutions on Syria, would veto a UN move towards military action, and US officials said they did not contemplate seeking it.

Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov said the deal sent a strong message, not just to Syria but to the world, that the use of chemical weapons would not be tolerated.

Mr Lavrov said: “We understand that the decisions we have reached today are only the beginning of the road.”

The deal is considered crucial to breaking the international stalemate blocking a resumption of peace talks to end the Syrian civil war, now in its third year.

Under the framework agreement, international inspectors are to be on the ground in Syria by November. During that month, they are to complete their initial assessment and all mixing and filling equipment for chemical weapons is to be destroyed.

The deal calls for all components of the chemical-weapons programme to be removed from the country or destroyed by mid-2014.

“Ensuring that a dictator’s wanton use of chemical weapons never again comes to pass, we believe is worth pursuing and achieving,” Mr Kerry said.

Non-compliance by the Assad regime or any other party would be referred to the 15-nation UN Security Council by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. That group oversees the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria this week agreed to join.

The group’s director general, Ahmet Uzumcu, spoke of adopting “necessary measures” to put in place “an accelerated programme to verify the complete destruction” of Syria’s chemical weapons, production facilities and “other relevant capabilities”.

The US and Russia are two of the five permanent Security Council members with a veto. The others are Britain, China and France.

“There is an agreement between Russia and the United States that non-compliance is going to be held accountable within the Security Council under Chapter 7,” Mr Kerry said. “What remedy is chosen is subject to the debate within the council, which is always true. But there’s a commitment to impose measures.”

Mr Lavrov indicated there would be limits to using such a resolution.

“Any violations of procedures … would be looked at by the Security Council and if they are approved, the Security Council would take the required measures, concrete measures,” he said. “Nothing is said about the use of force or about any automatic sanctions.”

Mr Kerry spoke of a commitment, in the event of Syrian noncompliance, to “impose measures commensurate with whatever is needed in terms of the accountability”.

The agreement offers no specific penalties. Given that a thorough investigation of any allegation of noncompliance is required before any possible action, Moscow could drag out the process or veto measures it deems too harsh.

Mr Kerry said the two sides had agreed on the exact size of Syria’s weapons stockpile, previously a sticking point.

US officials said they agreed that Syria had roughly 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons agents and precursors, including blister agents, such as sulphur and mustard gas and nerve agents such as sarin.

The two sides did not agree on the number of chemical weapons sites in Syria. US intelligence believes there are about 45, half of which have “exploitable quantities” of material that could be used in munitions. The Russian estimate is thought to be considerably lower.

US intelligence agencies believe all the stocks remain in government control.

UN inspectors are preparing to submit their own report this week. Secretary general Ban Ki-moon said on Friday he expected “an overwhelming report” that chemical weapons were used on the outskirts of Damascus on August 21.

Mr Ban said yesterday he hoped the agreement would prevent further use of such weapons and “help pave the path for a political solution to stop the appalling suffering inflicted on the Syrian people”.

Britain’s foreign secretary, William Hague, said the deal was “a significant step forward.” The German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said that “if deeds now follow the words, the chances of a political solution will rise significantly”.

The commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army, Gen Salim Idris, said the Russian initiative would “buy time” and that rebels will continue “fighting the regime and work for bringing it down”.

He said that if international inspectors come to Syria to inspect chemical weapons, “we will facilitate their passage but there will be no cease-fire”. The FSA would not block the work of UN inspectors, he said, and the “inspectors will not be subjected to rebel fire when they are in regime-controlled areas”.

Gen Idris said Mr Kerry had told him that “the alternative of military strikes is still on the table”.

* The Associated Press

Published: September 14, 2013 04:00 AM

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