Obama Welcomes Syria Chemical Weapons Deal but Retains Strike Option
September 15, 2013
Paul Lewis / The Guardian & Military.com
US and Russia reach Geneva agreement to destroy Syria stockpile by mid-2014 but the White House has threatened the negotiations by insisting on its right to launch a unilateral and illegal attack on Syria in the future. Meanwhile, the prospect of securing Syria's chemical weapons would likely require thousands of US "boots on the ground" inside Syria.
Obama Welcomes Syria Chemical Weapons Deal but Retains Strikes Option
Paul Lewis / The Guardian
WASHINGTON (September 14, 2013) -- President Barack Obama has welcomed an agreement to disarm Syria of its chemical arsenal as an "important, concrete" step that could prevent the weapons from being used elsewhere in the world. However, he also signaled that he was still prepared to launch military strikes if the disarmament plan failed.
The deal, the result of three days of talks between the US and Russia in Geneva, requires Syria to provide a comprehensive list of its chemical weapons within a week and to allow inspectors into the country by November. Chemical weapons stockpiles are to be removed or destroyed by the middle of next year.
"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," the US president said. "The international community expects the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments."
The agreement effectively confirms that US military strikes against Syria, which just six days ago Washington was indicating were imminent, will not happen in the short term. The White House announced earlier in the week that it had put on hold an attempt to request authorisation for military force from Congress.
However Obama, who has repeatedly shifted his position on Syria over the past fortnight, maintained on Saturday that punitive force might still be used against Syria in the future, saying there should be "consequences" for Bashar al-Assad's government if it did not comply with the deal.
The agreement was revealed earlier in the day in Geneva by the US secretary of state, John Kerry, following three days of negotiations with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Delegations of technical experts from both countries attended, in order to draw-up a blueprint that could reliably ensure that Syria relinquished its chemical weapons.
US intelligence officials said President Assad's troops were responsible for a chemical weapons attack in Damascus last month that killed more than 1,400 people. The regime has denied it was behind the attack, blaming rebels.
Kerry said international inspectors from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons must be given "immediate" access to Syrian chemical weapons, most of which are likely to be removed from the country before being destroyed. He said the removal of chemical weapons would be "credible and verifiable" if it was fully implemented.
"The world will now wait for the Assad regime to honour its commitments," Kerry said. "There is no room for anything other than full compliance."
Russia and the US have set a high bar for Assad. The Syrian president committed his country to the Chemical Weapons Convention earlier this week, saying he believed that under the treathy his country was afforded 30 days to identify the locations of its chemical arsenal.
That timeframe was rejected by Russia and the US. A framework agreement released by the two powers said they expected Syria "to submit, within a week, a comprehensive listing, including names, types, and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions, and location and form of storage, production, and research and development facilities."
Inspectors will need to be granted "unfettered" access to weapons-storage facilities, to begin the process of neutralising the arsenals and precursor agents by November. The document sets what it describes as "ambitious goals", of removing or destroying all of Syria's chemical weapons and related equipment by the first half of 2014.
The agreement will be endorsed by a resolution by the United Nations security council -- however, Russia has said it will not allow use of force to be considered, even in the event that Syria fails to properly comply with the conditions. Kerry said any violations would result in "measures" from the UN security council; Lavrov said violations would have to be sent to the security council from the board of the Chemical Weapons Convention before sanctions, short of the use of force, would be considered.
Lavrov called the agreements a "decision based on consensus and compromise and professionalism."
"Any violations of procedures ... would be looked at by the security council and if they are approved, the security council would take the required measures, concrete measures," he said. "Nothing is said about the use of force or about any automatic sanctions. All violations should be approved by the security council."
However, Kerry argued that military action could still be be taken without the backing of the UN or US Congress. He said such action could be taken "with a decision by the president of the United States and likeminded allies if they thought that was what it came to."
Obama, who was briefed on the talks by his national security adviser, Susan Rice, reiterated that stance in his statement, saying that the diplomatic breakthrough was the result of "credible threat of US military force" and adding: "If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act."
The agreement caps one of the more remarkable weeks in the history of diplomacy. It began in London on Monday when Kerry, asked what Assad might do to to avert US attacks, said in an apparently off-the-cuff remark that the Syrian president could hand over all of his chemical weapons to the international community. Kerry then added: "But he isn't about to do it, and it can't be done, obviously."
The unplanned remark was seized upon by Russia, which endorsed the idea and secured the backing of Syria. It also provided the White House with an unexpected alternative to military strikes, which did not have the backing of the US public or, it seemed, the US Congress, which analysts were predicting would vote against military action.
Kerry was asked in Geneva how what five days ago he had said would be "impossible" had now "suddenly become possible."
He replied: "I purposefully made the statements that I made in London, and I did indeed say it was impossible and he won't do it, even as I hoped it would be possible and wanted him to do it. And the language of diplomacy sometimes requires that you put things to the test, and we did."
He insisted -- as the US administration has done all week -- that the idea of destroying chemical weapons had been discussed for some months, adding: "I'm pleased that President Putin took initiative, and Sergei took initiative, and President Obama responded, and we're here."
Securing Syria's Weapons May Require US Troops
Richard Sisk / Military.com
(September 14, 2013) -- The White House and the Pentagon have repeatedly ruled out "boots on the ground" in Syria, but Defense Department officials were less certain Thursday on whether US military personnel might be sent to help secure or destroy Syria's chemical weapons.
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.
Read the full report at: http://www.military.com/daily-news/2013/09/14/securing-syrias-weapons-may-require-us-troops.html
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