(Left) Kerry and Lavrov in Geneva on Saturday. (AP)
Geneva, Sept. 14: The US and Russia have reached an agreement that calls for Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons to be removed or destroyed by the middle of 2014, secretary of state John Kerry said today.
Under a “framework” agreement, international inspectors must be on the ground in Syria by November, Kerry said, speaking at a news conference with the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey V. Lavrov.
Under the agreement, Syria must submit a “comprehensive listing” of its chemical weapons stockpiles within a week.
American and Russian officials also reached a consensus on the size of Syria’s stockpile, an essential prerequisite to any international plan to control and dismantle the weapons. “If fully implemented,” Kerry said, “this framework can provide greater protection and security to the world.”
If President Bashar al-Assad of Syria fails to comply with the agreement, the issue will be referred to the UN Security Council. Kerry said that any violations would then be taken up under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which authorises punitive action. But Lavrov made clear that Russia, which wields a veto in the Security Council, had not withdrawn its objections to the use of force.
The joint announcement, which took place on the third day of intensive talks here, eased the US’ confrontation with Syria. Arms control officials on both sides worked into the night, a process that recalled the treaty negotiations during the cold war.
The issue of removing Syria’s chemical arms broke into the open on Monday when Kerry, in a news conference in London, posed the question as to whether Assad could rapidly be disarmed only to state that he did not see how it could be done.
“He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that,” Kerry said. “But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”
Now, however, what once seemed impossible has become the plan — one that will depend on Assad’s cooperation and that will need to be put in place in the middle of a civil war. Kerry and Lavrov had a series of meeting yesterday, including a session that ended at midnight. This morning, the two sides reconvened with their arms controls experts on the hotel pool deck, sitting under a white umbrella drinking coffee as they pored over the text of the agreement.
Before the news conference, Lavrov said that he had not spoken with Syrian officials while he was negotiating in Geneva. Obama administration officials have argued that Russia’s role was essential since it has been a major backer of the Assad government.
Entitled “Framework For Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons”, the agreement is four pages long, including its technical annexes. The agreement, which outlines procedures for “expeditious destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons programme and stringent verification,” says that the US and Russia will submit a plan in the next several days to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which oversees compliance with the chemical weapons accord.
Under the framework, the initial inspection of the chemical weapons site that the Syrian government declares must be completed by November. Equipment for producing chemical weapons and filling munitions with poison gas must be destroyed by November. The document also says that there is to be “complete elimination of all chemical weapons material and equipment in the first half of 2014”.
In his weekly address before the deal was announced, President Obama called the Russian peace initiative and subsequent discussions “positive developments” that could ultimately avert an American military strike in retaliation for a gas attack that the US estimated killed more than 1,400 last month.