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US-Russia reach agreement on Syria weapons
GENEVA — After days of intense negotiations, the United States and Russia reached agreement Saturday on a framework to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014 and impose U.N. penalties if the Assad government fails to comply.
The deal, announced by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, includes what Kerry called "a shared assessment" of the weapons stockpile, and a timetable and measures for Syrian President Bashar Assad to follow so that the full inventory can be identified and seized.
The U.S. and Russia agreed to immediately press for a U.N. Security Council resolution that enshrines the chemical weapons agreement under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which can authorize both the use of force and nonmilitary measures.
But Russia, which already has rejected three resolutions on Syria, would be sure to veto military action, and U.S. officials said they did not contemplate seeking such an authorization.
"The world will now expect the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments," Kerry told a packed news conference at the hotel where negotiations were conducted since Thursday night. "There can be no games, no room for avoidance or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime."
It was not immediately clear whether Syria had signed onto the agreement, which requires Damascus to submit a full inventory of its stocks within the next week. Russia does have a close relationship with Syria and holds influence over its Mideast ally.
Kerry and Lavrov emphasized that the deal sends a strong message not just to Syria but to the world, too, that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated.
Lavrov added, cautiously, "We understand that the decisions we have reached today are only the beginning of the road."
The deal is considered critical 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 program 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," Kerry said.
Noncompliance by the Assad government or any other party would be referred to the 15-nation Security Council by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. That group oversees the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria this week agreed to join.
The U.S. 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," 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."
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," Lavrov said. "Nothing is said about the use of force or about any automatic sanctions."
Kerry spoke of a commitment, in the event of Syrian noncompliance, to "impose measures commensurate with whatever is needed in terms of the accountability."