|U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) shake hands after making statements following meetings regarding Syria, at a news conference in Geneva, Sept.14, 2013.|
The agreement will be backed by a U.N. Security Council resolution that could allow for sanctions or other consequences if Syria fails to comply, Secretary of State John F. Kerry said.
Kerry said that the first international inspection of Syrian chemical weapons will take place by November, with destruction to begin next year.
Senior administration officials had said Friday the Obama administration would not press for U.N. authorization to use force against Syria if it reneges on any agreement to give up its chemical weapons.
The Russians had made clear in talks here between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Kerry that the negotiations could not proceed under the threat of a U.N. resolution authorizing a military strike. Russia also wanted assurances that a resolution would not refer Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the International Criminal Court for possible war-crimes prosecution.
President Obama has said that the unilateral U.S. use of force against Syria for a chemical attack last month remains on the table. But consideration of that action, already under challenge by a skeptical Congress, has been put on hold pending the outcome of the Geneva talks.
The discussions here began this week following a Russian proposal Monday, quickly agreed to by Assad, to place Syria’s chemical arsenal under international control and eventually destroy it.
Kerry and Lavrov, negotiating behind closed doors with teams of disarmament experts, have said little about the talks that began Thursday. But administration officials in Washington provided some details on the condition that they not be identified or quoted directly.
The officials insisted that any agreement must be verifiable and include consequences for non-compliance. Short of a threatened use of force, it is not clear what those consequences would be.
The question of U.N. authorization for using force in Syria came up less than 24 hours after the Russians first made their proposal. France quickly drafted a resolution that threatened to consider “further necessary measures” — code words for military force — if Syria makes a deal and then breaks it. The draft, negotiated with the United States and Britain, was met with public statements from Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin that they would not negotiate under threat.
Washington and London have now backed off the use-of-force provision, and a revised French draft being circulated at the U.N. Security Council has weakened it. Instead, the draft calls for continuous review of “Syria’s compliance . . . and, if Syria does not comply fully, to impose further measures” that are unspecified.
The draft still includes a provision to refer Syrian authorities to the International Criminal Court, but that provision could also be removed in subsequent reworkings as the Geneva negotiations continue.
The senior officials said they expected a U.N. resolution in some form to pass within weeks of a Geneva agreement.
One possible course of action, they said, is the internationally verified transfer of Syria’s chemical stockpiles to Russia, where they eventually would be destroyed.
The Kerry-Lavrov discussions hit snags Friday over ways to ensure all chemical stockpiles are identified, an official familiar with the talks said, but a second official said the two sides were “coming closer to agreement.”
Meeting in Washington with Kuwaiti Emir Sabah Ahmed al-Sabah, Obama said he had told the visiting leader that he hopes the U.S.-Russian discussions “bear fruit.”
“But I repeated what I've said publicly, which is that any agreement needs to be verifiable and enforceable,” Obama said.
Both Kerry and Lavrov called the talks productive, and they will continue Saturday. And they agreed to meet in about two weeks when both will attend the U.N. General Assembly’s annual gathering in New York.
“Now that the Assad government has joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, we have to engage our professionals together” with U.N. officials, Lavrov said Friday, “to design a road which would make sure that this issue is resolved quickly, professionally, as soon as practical.”
Assad sent a letter Thursday to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon saying that on Monday he will sign the international accord banning chemical weapons.
The Geneva talks are aimed at creating a blueprint for identifying and seizing chemical weapons that the United States claims the ruling Syrian government used to gas to death more than 1,400 people last month.
Kerry and Lavrov said successful diplomacy on chemical weapons could help revive negotiations they jointly proposed months ago between the Syrian government and the opposition fighting to unseat Assad.
A possible follow-up peace conference “will obviously depend on the capacity to have success here,” Kerry said after he and Lavrov met Friday morning with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. and Arab League envoy to Syria.
WATCH: US, Russia agree on dismantling Syria chemical weapons.
Syria, which is not a party to the Geneva talks, denied until this week that it had chemical weapons. Under Russian pressure, Assad agreed to acknowledge the stockpiles and join the international weapons ban. Both Syria and Russia have said that the Aug. 21 attack, in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, was carried out by rebels, not the government.
The site of the attack was visited last month by U.N. investigators who are due to brief Ban on their findings Sunday. Ban told a gathering of women’s groups Friday that the inspectors have obtained “overwhelming” evidence that the attack took place, according to a U.N.-based diplomat.
“I believe that the report will be an overwhelming report that chemical weapons were used, even though I cannot say it publicly at this time,” Ban said in comments he apparently thought were confidential but that were captured on an internal television feed.
Ban did not say who was responsible for using chemical weapons or what nerve agent was used.
But the diplomat, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the unreleased results, said that “the report will clearly say it is sarin” gas and that “it clearly hints that the regime is the perpetrator.”
Ban is scheduled to present the findings to the Security Council on Monday.
Lynch reported from the United Nations, and DeYoung reported from Washington. Scott Wilson in Washington contributed to this report. - Washington Post.
Obama: Military Action Still On Table.
In a statement, Obama said a framework deal was an important, concrete step toward getting Syria's chemical weapons under international control so they can ultimately be destroyed. The deal emerged from Geneva talks between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
"While we have made important progress, much more work remains to be done," said Obama.
Obama has been bombarded with criticism for his handling of Syria and a muddled message. First, he took U.S. forces to the brink of a military strike over an August 21 poison gas attack in Syria that Washington blames on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He then asked Congress to authorize the strike, but less than a week later requested lawmakers hold off on a vote to allow diplomacy more time.
He now faces questions about how the Syrian diplomatic deal will be enforced. Senior administration officials said on Friday the United States will not insist that the use of military force be included among the consequences Syria would face in a U.N. Security Council resolution being negotiated, in order to avoid a Russian veto.
Obama, in his statement, insisted that the United States "remains prepared to act" should diplomatic efforts fail.
But Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have sharply criticized Obama's handling of Syria, said the deal is meaningless unless backed up with the threat of military force.
"It requires a willful suspension of disbelief to see this agreement as anything other than the start of a diplomatic blind alley," they said.
But Nancy Pelosi, leader of the Democratic minority in the House of Representatives, disagreed. She said the agreement will allow for enforcement under the U.N. charter's Chapter 7, which covers the use of military force.
WATCH: US: Assad Must Show Concrete Actions on Weapons.
"The firm and united response agreed upon today to end Syria's deadly use of chemical weapons was only made possible by a clear and credible threat of the use of force by the United States," said Pelosi.
Obama said the United States will continue working with Russia, the United Kingdom, France, the United Nations and others to "ensure that this process is verifiable, and that there are consequences should the Assad regime not comply with the framework agreed today."
"In part because of the credible threat of U.S. military force, we now have the opportunity to achieve our objectives through diplomacy," he added.
U.S. forces were still positioned for possible military strikes on Syria.
"We haven't made any changes to our force posture to this point," Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement Saturday.
Obama, briefed on the results of the Geneva talks by his national security adviser, Susan Rice, said he had spoken to both Kerry and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, who will lead U.S. efforts on the U.N. negotiations. - Reuters.
Securing Syria's Weapons May Require US Troops.
Pentagon Press Secretary George Little gave a vague answer when asked if U.S. troops were prepared to assist should an international agreement allow Russia to take control of the tons of chemical weapons believed to be in the stockpiles of President Bashar al-Assad.
"I'm not going to speculate on who may or may not be participating in a process that may or may not take place," Little said. "We've got to see where the process goes" before the U.S. military considers involvement, he said.
The first steps in the process were taking place in Geneva, where Secretary of State John Kerry was meeting for a second day with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Moscow's proposal to have international teams take control of the chemical weapons.
Syria has tentatively agreed to the Russian initiative and also agreed to join the international ban on chemical and biological weapons.
Lavrov has urged the U.S. to speed the negotiations by dropping the threat to launch strikes on Syria, but Little said "the threat of military action is driving the process forward."
To back up the threat, the U.S. was keeping four destroyers off the Syrian coast and the Nimitz carrier strike group in the Red Sea, though some of the ships may be replaced if the negotiations are drawn out, Little said.
"We have a mix of assets that would be available" to back up the threat, Little said. He wouldn't comment on whether submarines were also in the Mediterranean to join with the surface ships in launching Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles. Little stressed that "we remain fully prepared to act" in the event that the talks with the Russians fail.
Any strike on Syria would also likely include B-52 bombers and possibly B-2 Spirit bombers firing cruise missiles from "stand-off" positions beyond the range of Syrian air defenses.
In a phone call Friday morning to British Defense Minister Philip Hammond, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel provided an "update on U.S. activities in the eastern Mediterranean" in response to the alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 on the Damascus suburbs, Little said.
Little declined comment on whether Hammond and Hagel discussed the possible use by the U.S. of the British airbase at Akrotiri on Cyprus, which is about 160 miles from the Syrian coast.
Last Sunday, the British Ministry of Defense confirmed that Typhoon interceptors had scrambled from Akrotiri to confront Syrian fighters that had flown into international air space near Cyrpus.
In a statement, the Ministry of Defense said that "Typhoon Air Defense Aircraft operated from RAF (Royal Air Force) Akrotiri to investigate unidentified aircraft to the east of Cyprus; the aircraft were flying legally in international airspace and no intercept was required."
The Syrian planes were believed to have been two Russian-made Sukhoi Su-24 attack aircraft that were flying "low and fast," the Daily Mail newspaper reported.
Before the stunning Aug. 30 vote by the British parliament against the use of force in Syria, Britain had sent six Typhoons to Akrotiri.
"This is purely a prudent and precautionary measure to ensure the protection of UK interests and the defense of our Sovereign Base Areas at a time of heightened tension in the wider region. This is a movement of defensive assets operating in an air-to-air role only," an RAF spokesman said at the time.
At the White House Friday, President Obama discussed Syria with the visiting Amir of Kuwait, Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah. Kuwait has been one of the Gulf states along with Qatar and Saudi Arabia that have been supplying the rebels in Syria with money and, allegedly, arms.
"Our two countries are in agreement that the use of chemical weapons that we saw in Syria was a criminal act," Obama said. "I shared with the Amir my hope that the negotiations that are currently taking place between Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov in Geneva bear fruit." Obama said "any agreement needs to be verifiable and enforceable and we agreed that, ultimately, what's needed for the underlying conflict is a political settlement." - Military.