World leaders have praised a US-Russian agreement, which would place Syrian chemical weapons under international control, as a step forward. But President Obama has said the deal must be backed by the threat of force.
In a statement issued by the White House on Saturday, US President Barack Obama said that the agreement was possible only because America had threatened Damascus with military strikes. He added that Washington remained prepared to act should diplomacy fail to secure the Assad regime's chemical weapons.
"I welcome the progress made between the United States and Russia through our talks in Geneva, which represents an important, concrete step toward the goal of moving Syria's chemical weapons under international control so that they may ultimately be destroyed," Obama said.
"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," the president continued. "And, if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act."
US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov struck a deal on Saturday after three days of talks in Geneva, Switzerland. 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.
The deal calls for the UN Security Council to act under Chapter VII of the organization's charter, should the Assad regime fail to meet the conditions of the US-Russian agreement. Chapter VII allows the Security Council to impose economic sanctions or use military force to secure international peace and stability.
West calls for quick implementation
British Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the agreement, but said that the international community now must work quickly to implement the deal.
"UK welcomes US-Russia agreement on Syria chemical weapons," Hague said in a message on Twitter. "Urgent work on implementation now to take place."
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 21st chemical weapons attack in Ghouta. The US claims the attack killed more than 1,000 people.
Germany's foreign minister, 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," Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle 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.
"The secretary general expresses his fervent hope that the agreement will, first, prevent any future use of chemical weapons in Syria and, second, help pave the path for a political solution to stop the appalling suffering inflicted on the Syrian people," UN spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci said.
Late on Saturday the United Nations said 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.
Syrian rebels reject Geneva agreement
But the opposition Free Syrian Army (FSA), the West's main ally among the numerous Syrian rebel groups, rejected the US-Russian agreement outright.
"We cannot accept any part of this initiative," FSA chief General Selim Idriss told reporters in Istanbul on Saturday.
"Are we Syrians supposed to wait until mid-2014, to continue being killed every day, and to accept (the deal) just because the chemical arms will be destroyed in 2014?" asked Idriss.
"When the regime agreed to hand over the weapons, it recognized its crime," he continued. So should the weapons be handed over, without handing over the criminal?"
"I call for Bashar al-Assad to be dragged to the International Criminal Court today because he is a criminal."
slk,ch / hc (dpa, AFP, Reuters)