President Obama on Saturday hailed an agreement between the U.S. and Russia on disarming Syria’s chemical weapons as an “important” step, and warned that he remained “prepared to act” if Damascus failed to follow through.
“I welcome the progress made between the United States and Russia through our talks in Geneva, which represents an important, concrete step toward the goal of moving Syria's chemical weapons under international control so that they may ultimately be destroyed,” said Obama in a statement.
“This framework provides the opportunity for the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons in a transparent, expeditious, and verifiable manner, which could end the threat these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but to the region and the world,” he added.
Obama cautioned however that “the international community expects the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments.”
The president said the U.S. would work with its allies to ensure that “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.”
Obama’s statement came after Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Saturday announced a “framework” deal that would destroy or remove Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal by mid-2014.
Under the plan, Syria has one week to provide information on its chemical stockpile, and production and storage facilities and to agree to allow United Nations inspectors.
If Syria fails to comply, the matter could be referred to the UN Security Council, although officials were unclear if force could be used to ensure compliance.
“If fully implemented,” said the Kerry at a joint press conference with Lavrov, “this framework can provide greater protection and security to the world.”
He warned however that the U.S. would carefully “verify” that Syria was in compliance.
“There can be no games,” said Kerry.
The diplomatic breakthrough came after three days of talks. Obama accepted a Russian offer to negotiate a plan to secure Assad’s chemical weapons earlier this week after his efforts to win congressional support for an attack on Syria stalled.
Obama had pressed for a strike on Syria to punish Assad for a chemical attack on civilians which took place on Aug. 21.