US, Russia reach deal on Syria's chemical arms

Photo: AFP

The United States and Russia have agreed on a process for dismantling Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced at a news conference Saturday after a third day of talks in Geneva.


The United States and Russia have agreed on a process for dismantling Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced at a joint news conference on Saturday.

France: deal an ‘important step forward’

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has hailed Saturday’s deal as a significant breakthrough.

"The draft agreement reached in Geneva about eliminating the Syrian regime's chemical weapons is an important step forward," he said in a statement shortly after the deal was struck.

Fabius added that France would wait for the findings of a UN weapons inspectors' investigation into the alleged chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Damascus on August 21, expected Monday, before clarifying its stance on Syria.

Elements of the deal include a mid-2014 deadline for disarmament, an outline of Syria's compliance requirements and – crucially – a clause stipulating that if Syria falls short of its commitments, Russia and the United States would jointly seek recourse at the United Nations Security Council.

Following a third day of intense negotiations in Geneva, Kerry told reporters that Moscow and Washington and their respective experts had reached “a shared assessment” of Syria's existing stockpile and agreed that the Syrian regime must dismantle its chemical stockpiles.

"Providing this framework is fully implemented, it can end the threat these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but also their neighbours," Kerry said.

"Because of the threat of proliferation, this framework can provide greater protection and security to the world," he added.

Damascus must provide a "comprehensive listing" of its chemical weapons sites within one week and allow "immediate, unfettered access", Kerry said, adding that international inspectors would be on the ground in Syria no later than November.

No 'automatic sanctions'

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

Kerry said that Russia and the United States had agreed on the circumstances under which they might request a Security Council resolution under Chapter 7, which can authorise both military and non-military sanctions.

But Lavrov emphasised that the agreement did not include any automatic use of force if Damascus fails to comply, but rather would refer any Syrian violations to the United Nations for review.

“Any violations of procedure ... would be looked at by the Security Council and, if they are approved, the Security Council would take the required measures, concrete measures,'' Lavrov said. “Nothing is said about the use of force or about any automatic sanctions. All violations should be [reviewed] by the Security Council.''

Rebels reject deal

In Istanbul, the head of the Syrian rebel Supreme Military Council was dismissive of the deal, however, saying it would not resolve the country's civil war, now in its third year.

General Selim Idris called it a blow to opposition hopes of overthrowing Bashar al-Assad and accused the Syrian president of circumventing any disarmament by already sending chemical weapons to allies in Lebanon and Iraq in recent days.

Qassim Saadeddine, a rebel commander in northern Syria and a spokesman for the Supreme Military Council, told Reuters his forces would not cooperate: "Let Kerry-Lavrov plan go to hell. We reject it and we will not protect the inspectors or let them enter Syria," he said by telephone.

A US official, however, said Washington believed all Syria's chemical weapons remained in areas under the Assad government's control.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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