WASHINGTON — Barack Obama has welcomed the news of a deal brokered in Geneva that will see Syria’s chemical weapons brought under international control, but warned of “consequences” if the Assad regime fails to comply.
The US and Russia have overcome their differences and agreed to put Syria on a short leash, giving it one week to account for all of its chemical weapons, to submit to surrendering them for destruction according to a strict timetable, and to give international inspectors “unfettered access” to its territory.
Obama described the agreed framework as a “concrete step” and said the rest of the world “expects the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments”.
But he does not rule out the US taking military action against Syria in future, particularly if its government does not stick to the timetable it has been given.
“If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act,” Obama said.
The deal, announced after three days of tense talks in Geneva, represents a dramatic diplomatic breakthrough. In the best scenario, officials said, it could open the way also to bringing all sides in the conflict to the table for comprehensive peace talks.
It was, however, instantly dismissed by the opposition Syrian military council. Both sides had to bridge wide divides over the scope of the Syrian arsenal and the way in which the deal will be enforced.
The US may have made the largest concession, acknowledging that while a United Nations resolution implementing the deal would be adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, theoretically authorising possible military action if Syria failed to comply, it would not seek such authorisation, nor expect language on military enforcement in the text.
That does not mean, however, that the US could not return to considering unilateral military strikes if the agreement jumped the rails.
“There can be no games, no room for avoidance, or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime,” the US Secretary of State John Kerry, who negotiated the agreement with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, declared.
Mr Kerry is due to travel to Israel on Sunday to explain the details of the agreement to the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and will then go to Paris for talks tomorrow with the French Foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, and British Foreign secretary William Hague.
Mr Hague welcomed the agreement, describing it as a “significant step forward”. He said it should be followed by swift action to begin the transfer of Syrian chemical weapons – reportedly scattered around the country — to international control. The team of UN inspectors who investigated the suspected chemical weapons attack of 21 August will deliver its report to the Security Council in New York on Monday.
Under the terms of the arrangement, Syria will have seven days — until next Saturday – to submit “a comprehensive listing, including names, types and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions, and local and form of storage, production, and research and development facilities”.