Kerry said the first international inspection of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is set for November, with destruction to begin next year. But Lavrov added a more cautious note to what was an otherwise jubilant moment in Geneva, where the talks took place.
Lavrov stressed that the documents released Saturday, outlining the transfer of Syria’s large chemical weapons arsenal and its destruction, constitute only an “agreed proposal” that does not yet have the force of law. The plan drew sharp anger from Syria’s U.S.-backed rebels and received decidedly mixed reviews from the U.S. Congress, across party lines.
“Providing this effort is fully implemented, it can end the threat these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people, but also to their neighbors, to the region,” Kerry said.
The agreement, if successfully implemented, marks a modest victory for the Obama administration in its mostly arms-length engagement with Syria’s 2½-year-old conflict.
It was President Obama’s threat of U.S. military strikes after Syria’s Aug. 21 alleged use of chemical weapons — killing an estimated 1,400 people, hundreds of them children — that began the process culminating Saturday in an agreement for Syria to give up its chemical stockpile.
Over the years, that arsenal has provided Syria with a strategic benefit against Israel, with whom it is formally at war, and most recently with Syrian rebel forces seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
More than 100,000 people have died in the Syrian uprising since Obama in 2011 called for Assad to step down, arguing that he had lost the moral legitimacy to lead the country.
While removing the threat of chemical weapons from the battlefield benefits Syria’s rebels and reduces the chance of a regional war over their use, the deal does not change the basic trajectory of the civil war, in which Assad and his Russian-supplied weapons clearly hold the upper hand against a less cohesive rebel force.
News of the agreement drew immediate criticism from prominent Republicans in Congress, some of whom had supported the idea of airstrikes against Assad after last month’s use of chemical weapons, putting them briefly on the same side as Obama.
“What concerns us most is that our friends and enemies will take the same lessons from this agreement — they see it as an act of provocative weakness on America’s part,” Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) said in a statement Saturday. “We cannot imagine a worse signal to send to Iran as it continues its push for a nuclear weapon.”