Calling it “an important step” toward ridding the world of chemical weapons, President Obama on Saturday praised an agreement between the U.S. and Russia that will, in theory, result in Syria relinquishing its toxic arsenal.
But the deal doesn’t mean the U.S. is backing down from its threat of military force.
“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,” Mr. Obama said in a statement shortly after the deal was unveiled.
The agreement was announced in Geneva by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who have been meeting for the past three days in an attempt to reach consensus on how best to proceed in Syria.
The U.S. and many other nations allege that Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against his own people on multiple occasions, the most recent attack coming on Aug. 21 near Damascus.
While Russia disputes that assertion, it has agreed that Syria must give up its chemical weapons and submit to international inspections.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Assad regime must offer a full accounting of its chemical stockpile in the next seven days.
“The United States and the Russian Federation expect 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,” the State Department said in a statement announcing the agreement.
The ultimate goal is the “removal and destruction” of all chemical weapons in the first half of 2014, according to the State Department.
But the White House has continued to express skepticism not only toward the Assad government, but also toward Russia.
“Any agreement needs to verify that the Assad regime and Russia are keeping their commitments,” Mr. Obama said.
For now, the deal appears to have staved off military action by the U.S. Mr. Obama is keeping the threat of force on the table, but earlier this week told Congress to delay votes on authorizing strikes against the Assad government.
In light of Saturday’s agreement, those votes likely will be on hold indefinitely.