US, Russia agree proposal on Syria chemical weapons

Reuters, GENEVA

Sun, Sep 15, 2013 - Page 1

The US and Russia yesterday agreed on a proposal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, averting the possibility of any immediate US military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the agreement after nearly three days of talks in Geneva.

Kerry said that under the pact, Syria must submit a “comprehensive listing” of its chemical weapons stockpiles within one week.

He told a news conference with Lavrov that UN weapons inspectors must be on the ground in Syria no later than November.

The goal was the complete destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons by the middle of next year, he said.

Kerry said that if Syria did not comply with the agreement, it would face consequences under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, the part that covers sanctions and military action.

There was no agreement on what those measures would be. US President Barack Obama reserves the right to use military force in Syria, Kerry said.

Obama had threatened the use of force in response to an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria that US officials say killed about 1,400 people.

The US has blamed al-Assad’s government for the attack, while Russia and al-Assad say it was the work of rebel forces.

In Istanbul, the head of the opposition Syrian Supreme Military Council, General Selim Idris, said the rebels regarded the deal as a blow to their struggle to oust al-Assad. However, they would cooperate to facilitate the work of any international inspectors on the ground, he said.

However, another military council official said: “Let the Kerry-Lavrov plan go to hell. We reject it and we will not protect the inspectors or let them enter Syria.”

Despite the diplomatic breakthrough, chemical weapons only account for around 2 percent of deaths in a civil war in which 100,000 people have been killed.

The original drive for a political solution to the conflict, dubbed the “Geneva Plan” and calling for a transitional government, went nowhere as al-Assad refused to cede power and the opposition insisted he could not be a part of any new political order.

The latest talks prompted Obama to put on hold his plans for US air strikes in response to the chemical weapons attack.

Obama is now also spared facing a vote in Congress on military action that he had appeared increasingly likely to lose at this stage.