President Obama on Friday said he is hopeful the U.S. and Russia successfully negotiate an agreement to hand Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal to international control, but said any deal must be “verifiable and enforceable.”
“I shared with the amir our hope that the negotiations that are currently taking place ... bear fruit,” Obama told reporters after a bilateral meeting with the amir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah at the White House. “But I repeated what I've said publicly that any agreement has to be verifiable and enforceable.”
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met in Geneva for a second day of talks Friday to broker the agreement which would help avert a threatened U.S. military strike on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Obama threatened the strike after charging that Assad had used chemical weapons against civilians in an attack on Aug. 21. Assad has waged a brutal campaign against Syrian opposition forces seeking his ouster.
Obama’s call for military action though faced resistance in Congress leading to him accepting a Russian offer to broker a plan to disarm Syria’s chemical arsenal.
Obama said he and Sheikh Sabah agree that the chemical attack that took place outside Damascus on Aug. 21 is a criminal act, and that it is “absolutely important for the international community to respond, not only deterring repeated use of chemical weapons, but hopefully getting those chemical weapons outside of Syria.”
Assad’s government and Russia, a longtime ally of Syria, claim however that the chemical attack was carried out by rebel groups.
The president also expressed appreciation to the Kuwaiti people for their humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees.
The leaders also discussed U.S. efforts to revive peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians and the political turmoil in Egypt.
Sheikh Sabah, speaking softly and reading from prepared remarks, noted the suffering of the Syrian people and said it is critical that negotiators craft a peaceful solution in a “speedy manner” and keep the region free of “the danger of war.”
He also said he pushed Obama to release Kuwaiti detainees who remain in the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay.
“We also discussed the continued detention of two Kuwaiti detainees in Guantanamo, and asked President Obama to speed up the process of releasing them in line with the president's commitment of closing down Guantanamo, and also in line with assurances given by the Kuwaiti authorities,” Sheikh Sabah said.
President Obama has vowed to close the Guantanamo prison and transfer detainees, but has been blocked by Congress.