WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama says an agreement between the U.S. and Russia offers a chance to destroy Syria's huge stockpile of chemical weapons and promises to end the threat the weapons pose to the region and the world as well as the Syrian people.
Obama says the international community expects Syria to live up to its public commitments to hand over its chemical weapons stockpile. Warning that the U.S. remains prepared to act if Syria falls short, he also cautions that more work remains even after the progress the deal represents
"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 in a statement Saturday. "We have a duty to preserve a world free from the fear of chemical weapons for our children. Today marks an important step towards achieving this goal."
In setting out one of the most ambitious arms-control efforts in history, U.S. and Russian officials reached an agreement calling for an inventory of Syria's chemical weapons program and seizing all its components. The agreement includes imposing penalties if Syrian President Bashar Assad's government fails to comply.
Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and their teams had been meeting day and night in Geneva to develop a framework for ridding the world of Syria's chemicals weapons. A gas attack in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21prompted a series of events leading to the meetings.
The U.S. and others blame Assad's government for the attack, though Assad denies the charge. More than 1,400 people died, according to U.S. estimates, the latest victims of Syria's 2 1/2-year-old civil war. Yet polls showed relatively little support among Americans for a military strike against Syria, even after the Obama administration's efforts to argue that punishing the Assad government for violating international norms of warfare was in the security interests of the U.S.
Obama ordered preparations for American airstrikes, but he decided instead to ask for authorization from Congress for military action. Then came the Russian proposal for international control of Syria's chemical weapons, and Obama asked Congress, already largely opposed to military intervention, to delay a vote.
The deal to destroy Syria's chemical weapons also offers the potential for reviving international peace talks to end a civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and sent 2 million refugees fleeing for safety, and now threatens the stability of the entire Mideast.
In Congress, Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who are among Obama's sharpest foreign policy critics and support greater U.S. assistance for Syria's rebels, said the agreement will embolden enemies such as Iran.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California credited the president's "steadfast leadership" for "making significant progress in our efforts to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction."