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US-Russia seal chemical deal to avoid attack on Syria

The US and Russia on Saturdayagreed on a deal that calls for eliminating Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014, though President Barack Obama warned the military option was still on the table if diplomacy fails.
The deal was hammered out after nearly three days of intensive talks in Geneva between US secretary of state John Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.

Kerry outlined a six-point framework under which Syria must hand over a full list of its stockpile within a week and allow ‘immediate, unfettered access’ to its chemical sites.

Inspectors must be on the ground by November and the stockpiles should be removed or destroyed by mid-2014, he told told reporters at a joint press conference with Lavrov after wrapping up their talks.

However, president Obama warned Bashar al-Assad's regime against using the talks as a ‘stalling tactic’.
‘And since this plan emerged only with a credible threat of US military action, we will maintain our military posture in the region to keep the pressure on the Assad regime,’ he said in his weekly address.

‘If diplomacy fails, the US and the international community must remain prepared to act,’ said Obama, who had been pushing for military intervention in Syria till Russia unveiled its surprise initiative to bring the chemical stockpile under international watch.
After Russia this week proposed its plan, Damascus filed an application to join the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention easing fears of a US-led military strike.

The US holds the embattled regime of president Bashar al-Assad responsible for killing over 1,000 civilians in an alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb on 21 August. The Syrian government denies the allegations.   Kerry and Lavrov said if Syria failed to comply with the agreement, which must be finalised by the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, then a UN resolution would be sought under Chapter VII of the UN charter, which allows for the use of force.

‘Providing this framework is fully implemented it can end the threat these (chemical) weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but also their neighbours,’ Kerry said, referring to the deal he and Lavrov have worked out.

Kerry too said the US president reserves the right to use military force in Syria. ‘There's no diminution of options.’
But Lavrov said, ‘There (is) nothing said about the use of force and not about any automatic sanctions.’ He hailed the talks as ‘excellent’ and said it had achieved the aim set out by the countries' presidents at the G20 summit.

‘The aim has been achieved that was set in a conversation between our presidents on 5 September on the sidelines of the G20... about putting under international control Syria's arsenal of chemical weapons,’ Lavrov said. Lavrov suggested there could be another international peace conference on Syria by October.

France, the only country willing to join the US in taking military action in Syria, welcomed the Kerry-Lavrov agreement as a ‘significant step forward’.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said it was an ‘important advance’.However, the military leader of the anti-Assad Free Syrian Army rejected the deal and promised to continue fighting.

‘There is nothing in this agreement that concerns us,’ said Gen Salim Idriss, describing it as a Russian initiative designed to gain time for the Syrian government.
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