By Carlo Muñoz - 09/15/13 12:57 AM EDT
Saturday's deal between Washington and Moscow to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons is a positive first step, but "more work needs to be done" to ensure those weapons are no longer a threat in the region, President Obama said after the agreement was reached.
Ensuring Syrian President Bashar Assad complies with disarmament arrangements is an area American and international negotiators are working to address.
Under the U.S.-Russian plan, Assad will hand over control of his weapon stockpiles to the United Nations. Any failure to transition control of those weapons to the international community could trigger military action, sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council.
But Moscow's opposition to military intervention in Syria, coupled with its key position on the security council, has raised doubts on whether the disarmament deal can be enforced.
Russian diplomats, who consider Syria its main Mideast ally, have repeatedly used their position on the council to block American-led efforts to curb Assad's brutal offensive against rebel forces in the country.
Without that threat of military force, "Syria's willingness to follow through is very much an open question," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a statement Saturday.
Assad forces are already reportedly moving portions of its chemical weapon stocks to Lebanon and Iraq, in an attempt to evade international oversight, according to rebel leaders in Syria.
Obama made clear the disarmament deal included serious "consequences" for the Assad regime if it failed to comply with UN weapons regulators.
"We now have the opportunity to achieve our objectives through diplomacy," the president said, regarding efforts to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons arsenal.
That said, "if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act," he added.
American warships, armed with long-range Tomahawk missiles, remain on station off the Syrian coastline should Obama give the order to attack.
The White House was poised to begin targeted strikes on Assad's forces, in retaliation for alleged chemical attacks against opposition fighters in Damascus.
Obama suspended those attacks in order to seek congressional authorization for U.S. intervention in Syria.
As Congress debated the issue, Moscow proposed details of the disarmament plan agreed to by Kerry and Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland on Saturday.
"The use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world is an affront to human dignity and a threat to the security of people everywhere," Obama said Saturday.
The United States has "a duty to preserve a world free from the fear of chemical weapons," according to the President.
The deal reached between Washington and Russia for disarmament "marks an important step towards achieving this goal," he added.