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His remarks underscored the need to add wider international legitimacy to the U.S.-Russian deal, particularly since both sides made significant strategic concessions in order to reach the agreement.

Russia came to the table admitting for the first time that Syria has chemical weapons and that it is in the world’s interest to secure and destroy them. The Obama administration backed down from its imminent threat to carry out a U.S. military strike as retaliation for last month’s chemical attack.

But it remains unclear how the deal reached in Geneva will be enforced without a full-scale backing by the United Nations, and the Obama administration has appeared increasingly willing this week to back down from an ambitious timeline originally touted under the deal.

According to a copy of the agreement circulated by the State Department last weekend, Syria is expected 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.”

Washington backing down?

While Saturday would mark the one-week deadline, Obama administration officials spent Wednesday and Thursday telling reporters that the timeline was not technically a deadline.

“Hopefully we will see a declaration from the Syrian regime in the coming days,” Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Wednesday. “I don’t want to put a hard and fast deadline on it.”

Pressed Thursday on Ms. Harf’s remarks, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters that “we expect the Syrian regime to abide by the timeline in the framework and for Russia to hold the Assad regime to account.”

But, Mr. Carney said, “We would need to stress that these are timelines and goals, and we are all aware that something as complicated as destroying a massive stockpile of chemical weapons takes time.”

He noted that Syria also is making a declaration to the Chemical Weapons Convention as part of the U.S.-Russia deal and that the process involves a “30-day time frame.”

“So, we’re looking at both, and we will evaluate Syria’s compliance as we see information from Syria,” Mr. Carney said.