World leaders have welcomed a US-Russia brokered deal to dispose of Syria's chemical weapons. However President Barack Obama has warned that the US "remains prepared to act" if diplomacy fails.
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the joint announcement on the third day of talks in Geneva aimed at finding a diplomatic solution to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians.
Under the agreement, the Assad regime has to declare its chemical weapons stockpiles to the UN within a week. Weapons inspectors will inspect sites no later than November, and the weapons are to be destroyed by the middle of 2014.
"We have agreed to destroy all chemical weapons including the possibility for removing weapons for destruction outside of Syria," Kerry said. The talks were a breakthrough for Washington and Moscow, two permanent UN Security Council members who have rarely agreed on how to handle the crisis in Syria.
Kerry said that the deal would include "extraordinary procedures in order to ensure full implementation," including tying the deal to UN Charter's Chapter 7 should the Assad regime fail to meet the conditions of the US-Russian agreement. This chapter allows the Security Council to impose economic sanctions or use military force to secure international peace and stability.
US strike still on the table
World leaders have praised the agreement, including US President Barack Obama who said the deal must be backed by the threat of force.
In a statement issued by the White House on Saturday, President Obama said that the agreement was possible "in part" by what he called America's credible threat to use force. He said Washington is still prepared to act if diplomacy fails to secure the Assad regime's chemical weapons.
"The United States will continue working with Russia, the United Kingdom, France, the United Nations and others to ensure that this process is verifiable, and that there are consequences should the Assad regime not comply with the framework agreed today," Obama said. "And, if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the agreement, but said that the international community now must work quickly to implement the deal.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called the deal "an important step forward." France has been one of the main proponents of launching punitive military strikes against the Syrian regime for its alleged responsibility for the August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus. The US claims the attack killed more than 1,000 people.
Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who has called for international action but stopped short of advocating military intervention, said that the Geneva agreement could increase the chances of a political solution to the current crisis.
"If words are followed by actions, the chances of a political solution will have increased considerably," he said in a press release.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the UN would support the efforts to disarm the Assad regime and expressed hope that the latest diplomatic push could eventually pave the way for a peace deal to end the Syrian civil war.
Late on Saturday the United Nations announced that it has formally accepted Syria's application to join the chemical weapons convention. A UN spokeswoman said Syria had supplied all the necessary documents; and would come under the convention as of October 14.
Syria had applied on Thursday to join the convention, which bans the production and stockpiling of chemical weapons and orders the destruction of existing stocks.
hc/jm (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)