US, Russia reach agreement on Syria weapons removal

U.S. Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryBudowsky: Trump October surprise could devastate GOP Hillicon Valley: Democrats request counterintelligence briefing | New pressure for election funding | Republicans urge retaliation against Chinese hackers National security leaders, advocacy groups urge Congress to send election funds to states MORE and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced Saturday that a framework has been reached to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons.

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The deal, announced on the third day of intense negotiations in Geneva, called for Syria to hand over a full list of its chemical stockpile within a week.

International inspectors would be on the ground by November and all stockpiles should be removed or destroyed by mid-2014, Kerry said at the joint news conference.

Still, the "primary responsibility" for the destruction of the weapons will rest with Syria, the State Department said Saturday.

If Syria does not comply, sanctions or military force could be allowed – if they're backed by the United Nations Security Council.

"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," Lavrov said, according to the State Department transcript.

Still, the Russians have made clear that they still oppose military strikes, even if Syria fails to comply, leading to immediate questions about just how effective the deal will be. Russia sits on the U.N. Security Council and has veto power over any resolution considered by the body.

"Absent the threat of force, it's unclear to me how Syrian compliance will be possible under the terms of any agreement," Sen. Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney clashes with Trump Sessions-Tuberville Senate runoff heats up in Alabama GOP lawmakers stick to Trump amid new criticism MORE (Tenn.), the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Saturday in a statement. "I'm still reviewing the details and believe Syria's willingness to follow through is very much an open question."

In the short-term, however, the announcement appears to have defused an extremely volatile situation after several weeks of tense debate on Capitol Hill over how to respond to the Aug. 21 chemical attacks on civilians by the forces of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.

The Obama administration maintained all along that Assad had used the weapons, and quickly announced plans to launch targeted military strikes designed to cripple the regime's ability to repeat the attacks.

That strategy met with fierce resistance in Congress, however, with scores of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle vowing to oppose a use-of-force resolution.

Further complicating the issue for President Obama, public opinion polls showed sharp opposition to involvement in yet another Middle Eastern conflict after a decade of war in Iraq. And Russian President Vladimir Putin, among Assad's closest allies, had insisted as recently as Wednesday that it was rebel forces, not Assad, that had used the chemical weapons. He opposed U.S. military strikes as a violation of international law.

Saturday's agreement strongly suggests that Russian officials have conceded that Assad was behind the attacks and the international community should hold him to account.

"The United States and the Russian Federation believe that these extraordinary procedures are necessitated by the prior use of these weapons in Syria and the volatility of the Syrian civil war," the State Department said.

Syria is one of only five countries in the world that has not signed the international Convention on Chemical Weapons, which bars the production, storage and use of such arms. But Assad indicated this month that he will soon endorse the accord.