Syria: USA and Russia reach chemical weapons deal

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Picture: AP
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Picture: AP
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AFTER days of intense negotiations, the United States and Russia today agreed on a framework to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014 and impose United Nations penalties if Assad’s government fails to comply.

The deal, announced by US 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 al-Assad to follow so that the full inventory can be identified and seized.

The US and Russia agreed to immediately press for a UN Security Council resolution that enshrines the chemical weapons agreement under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which can authorise both the use of force and non-military measures. But Russia, which has rejected three resolutions on Syria, would be sure to veto military action, and US officials said they did not contemplate

seeking such an authorisation.

“The world will now expect the Assad regime to live up

to its public commitments,” Kerry said. “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 up to the agreement, which requires Damascus to submit a full inventory of its stocks within a week. Russia does have a close relationship with Syria and holds influence over its Middle East ally.

Kerry and Lavrov emphasised that the deal sends a strong message not just to

Syria but also to the world that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated.

Lavrov added: “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 an 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 programme 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,” Kerry said.

Non-compliance by the Assad government or any other party would be referred to

the 15-nation Security Council by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. That group oversees the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria last week agreed to join.

The US 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,” he 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”.

The agreement offers no specific penalties. Given that a thorough investigation of any allegation of noncompliance is required before any possible action, Moscow could drag out the process or veto measures it deems too harsh.

Kerry made clear that the US believes the threat of force is necessary to back the diplomacy. US officials have stressed that President Barack Obama retains the right to launch military strikes without UN approval to protect American national security interests.

“I have no doubt that the combination of the threat of force and the willingness to pursue diplomacy helped

to bring us to this moment,” Kerry said.

Under the deal, the US and Russia are giving Syria just one week, until 21 September, to submit “a comprehensive listing, including names, types and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions, and location and form of storage, production, and research and development facilities”.