Geneva, Switzerland — The United States and Russia say they have reached a groundbreaking deal on a framework to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, according to CNN reports. The deal was reached in their third day of talks in Switzerland.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergev Lavrov stood together and set out a series of steps the Syrian regime must follow.
Kerry said Syria must submit a list of its chemical weapons stockpile within one week, and international inspectors must be on the ground in Syria no later than November.
President Barack Obama issued a statement saying the framework “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 added, “There are consequences should the Assad regime not comply with the framework agreed today. And, if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act.”
U.S. State Department officials said that initial inspections of the sites must be completed by November; all production, mixing and filling equipment must be destroyed by November; and all chemical weapons material must be destroyed by the middle of 2014.
Kerry stressed that the Syrian regime must allow “immediate and unfettered” access to international inspectors. He added that inspectors should be able to get to the sites despite the ongoing civil war, since Syria has moved the weapons to areas where it maintains tight control.
The U.S. and Russia agree on their assessment of the amount and type of chemical weapons Syria possesses, Kerry said.
“Providing this framework is fully implemented, it can end the threat these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but also their neighbors,” Kerry added.
The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported that Syria’s Prime Minister Wael Nader al-Halqi welcomed the deal, saying his nation is determined to implement the political program as the “sole exit” from the crisis.
U.S. State Department officials said Saturday’s agreement “sends a very powerful message” about the use of chemical weapons, but admitted that the goal of eliminating them in Syria by next year’s deadline is “daunting.”
The U.S. and its allies blame the Syrian government for the chemical weapons attack last month that they say killed over 1,400 people.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and other officials vehemently deny the charges.
Syrian opposition forces were skeptical of the U.S. and Russia deal, with Gen. Salim Idriss, leader of the rebel Free Syrian Army, saying the al-Assad regime has already started moving chemical weapons out of the country into Lebanon and Iraq.
Idriss predicted the regime would keep some of its chemical weapons, and “then use it against our people and the FSA and then he will come out and accuse terrorists, and he will say that he gave up everything he has.”
The regime refers to the opposition fighters as terrorists and has previously accused them of using chemical weapons.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged support for the U.S.-Russian plan, as did spokesmen for both the French and UK governments.
The U.N. says the Syrian civil war has killed over 100,000 people since it began in 2011. In addition, it has produced over 2 million refugees and more than 4 million being displaced within Syria. Image/AP/Larry Downing