US, Russia To Destroy Syria’s Chemicals

The United States and Moscow have agreed a deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, US Secretary of State John Kerry has said, after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“Providing this framework is fully implemented it can end the threat these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but also their neighbours,” Kerry told reporters at a joint press conference with Lavrov, after wrapping up three days of negotiations in Geneva.

“Because of the threat of proliferation this framework can provide greater protection and security to the world,” he said.

“The world will now expect the Assad regime to live up to its commitments… There can be no room for games. Or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime,” he added.

US President Barack Obama welcomed the deal reached Saturday to strip Syria of chemical weapons but said much remains to be done and Damascus must comply.

In a statement, Obama said that if the regime of President Bashar al-Assad does not live up to the deal Washington reached with Syria’s ally Russia, “the United States remains prepared to act.”

Washington believes there are 45 sites in Syria linked to the country’s chemical weapons programme, a US official said Saturday.

“There are probably 45 sites associated with Syria’s chemical weapons programme” and “roughly half have exploitable quantities of chemical weapons materials,” the official told reporters shortly after US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced their accord.

The official added that it is believed that all of the sites are currently under the control of the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, given that Damascus has been moving stocks into areas it runs.

Russia has also agreed with a US assessment that Syria has 1000 metric tonnes of chemical weapons agents and precursors, including blister agents such as mustard gas and sulfur, and nerve agents like sarin.

Kerry said arms inspectors must be on ground in Syria by November and must allow ‘immediate, unfettered access’ to chemical sites so they can destory weapons by mid-2014.

“The inspectors must be on the ground no later than November… And the goal is to establish the removal by halfway through next year,” Kerry said.

“Actions will speak louder than words,” he said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that talks on Syria’s chemical weapons with US Secretary of State John Kerry had achieved an aim set out by the countries’ presidents at the G20 summit.

“The aim has been achieved that was set in a conversation between our presidents on September 5 on the sidelines of the G20… about putting under international control Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons,” Lavrov said.

France hailed the agreement reached Saturday by the United States and Russia on a plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons as a breakthrough.

“The plan is a significant step forward,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

Mr Fabius, whose country has been Washington’s main support in advocating military action against Damascus, added that he was awaiting further information from UN inspectors.

Mr Fabius, US Secretary of State John Kerry and British Foreign Secretary William Hague are expected to meet in Paris on Monday to discuss the details of the deal’s implementation.

Mr Hague on Saturday the US-Russian deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons and said there would be “urgent work” to implement it.

The deal struck by these two countries comes after Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said he believes there will be “an overwhelming report” from UN inspectors that chemical weapons were used in an attack in Syria on August 21, but he did not say who was responsible.

Mr Ban on Saturday welcomed a Russian-US deal on Syria’s chemical weapons but said it must be a stepping stone to ending the “appalling suffering” of Syrians, a spokeswoman said.

Mr Ban pledges UN support to implementing the accord reached by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry, said a UN spokeswoman Vannina Maestracci.

“The secretary general expresses his fervent hope that the agreement will, first, prevent any future use of chemical weapons in Syria and, second, help pave the path for a political solution to stop the appalling suffering inflicted on the Syrian people,” she added.

Syria’s rebel Free Syrian Army chief rejected the US-Russian deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014.

“We cannot accept any part of this initiative,” General Selim Idriss told reporters in Istanbul.

He preceded that by saying: “We in the Free Syrian Army are unconcerned by the implementation of any part of the initiative… I and my brothers in arms will continue to fight until the regime falls.”

The Syrian government and rebels blame each other for the attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The Obama administration, which says 1429 people were killed, has said it has evidence that clearly indicates the Syrian government was behind the attack.

But Russia, a key ally of Syria, has said it is not convinced by the US evidence.

The UN inspectors have a mandate to determine whether chemical weapons were used – and if so, which agent – not to establish who was responsible.

But two UN diplomats said the report could point to the perpetrators, saying that the inspectors collected many samples from the attack and also interviewed doctors and witnesses.

Mr Ban spoke shortly before the chief chemical weapons inspector, Ake Sellstrom, told The Associated Press that he would deliver his report to the secretary-general in New York this weekend.

Mr Ban also said President Bashar Assad’s regime “has committed many crimes against humanity.”

“Therefore, I’m sure that there will be surely the process of accountability when everything is over,” he said.

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