US Secretary of State John Kerry, (left), and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speak after making statements following meetings regarding Syria, at a news conference at the Geneva, Switzerland, yesterday.
GENEVA/BEIRUT: Russia and the US put aside bitter differences over Syria to strike a deal yesterday that by removing President Bashar Al Assad’s chemical arsenal may avert US military action against him.
After three days of talks in Geneva, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov demanded Assad account for his secret stockpile within a week and let international inspectors eliminate all the weapons by the middle of next year - an “ambitious” target, Kerry said.
The accord leaves major questions unanswered, including how feasible such a major disarmament can be in the midst of civil war and at what point Washington might yet make good on a continued threat to attack if it thinks Assad is reneging.
Under the Geneva pact, the US and Russia will back a United Nations enforcement mechanism. But its terms are not yet set. Russia is unlikely to support the military option that President Barack Obama said he was still ready to use.
“If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act,” Obama said.
But for Assad’s opponents, who two weeks ago thought US air strikes were imminent in response to a gas attack on rebel territory, the deal was a blow to hopes of swinging the war their way. Kerry and Lavrov said it could herald broader peace talks, as warplanes hit rebel positions again near Damascus.
Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Coalition elected a moderate Islamist as provisional prime minister yesterday, hoping to avoid being sidelined as world powers renew diplomatic efforts to end the civil war. Reuters