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U.S., Russia reach agreement on Syria's chemical weapons

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, speaks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, right, during a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland, Saturday Sept. 14, 2013. U.S. Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said Saturday they have reached an agreement on a framework for Syria to destroy all of its chemical weapons, and would seek a U.N. Security Council resolution that could authorize sanctions, short of military action, if Syrian President Bashar Assad's government fails to comply. (AP Photo/Keystone,Martial Trezzini)

GENEVA — A diplomatic breakthrough Saturday on securing and destroying Syria's chemical weapons stockpile averted the threat of U.S. military action for the moment and could swing momentum toward ending a horrific civil war.

Marathon negotiations between U.S. and Russian diplomats at a Geneva hotel produced a sweeping agreement that will require one of the most ambitious arms-control efforts in history.

The deal involves making an inventory and seizing all components of Syria's chemical weapons program and imposing penalties if President Bashar Assad's government fails to comply will the terms.

After days of intense day-and-night negotiations between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and their teams, the two powers announced they had a framework for ridding the world of Syria's chemicals weapons.

The U.S. says Assad used chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 attack on the outskirts of Damascus, the capital, killing more than 1,400 civilians. That prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to ready American airstrikes on his order — until he decided last weekend to ask for authorization from the U.S. Congress. Then came the Russian proposal, and Obama asked Congress, already largely opposed to military intervention, to delay a vote.

Obama said the deal "represents an important, concrete step toward the goal of moving Syria's chemical weapons under international control so that they may ultimately be destroyed."

"This framework provides the opportunity for the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons in a transparent, expeditious and verifiable manner, which could end the threat these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but to the region and the world," he said in a statement.

Kerry and Lavrov said they agreed on the size of the chemical weapons inventory, and on a speedy timetable and measures for Assad to do away with the toxic agents.

But Syria, a Moscow ally, kept silent on the development, while Obama made clear that "if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act."

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