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Obama welcomes Syria deal, expects Assad compliance

US President Barack Obama speaks during a cabinet meeting in Washington, DC, on September 12, 2013.
US President Barack Obama speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on September 12, 2013.

US President Barack Obama welcomed the deal reached Saturday to strip Syria of chemical weapons but said much remains to be done and warned Damascus to comply with the accord.

In a statement, Obama said that if the regime of President Bashar al-Assad does not live up to the deal Washington reached with Syria's ally Russia, "the United States remains prepared to act."

Obama said the accord was made possible 'in part' by what he called his credible threat to use force against Syria as punishment for its alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians last month.

The US says the attack killed more than 1,400 people while the regime and Russia have put the blame on the rebels.

The accord marked a very swift change in the direction of the latest chapter of the Syria crisis. Just two weeks ago Obama seemed poised to order missile strikes against Syria, with the stated goal of degrading its ability to use chemical weapons again.

Then he surprised everyone by seeking Congressional approval, effectively delaying any military action for some time. Many US lawmakers opposed more military action for a country recovering from the traumas of Iraq and Afghanistan wars and polls showed voters wary of getting involved in Syria's civil war.

In the words of Obama Saturday, "we now have the opportunity to achieve our objectives through diplomacy."

John Kerry (R) arrives with Sergei Lavrov at a press conference in Geneva on September 14, 2013
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) arrives with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to hold a joint press conference in Geneva on September 14, 2013 after they met for talks on Syria's chemical weapons.

The new accord gives Syria a week to provide details of its chemical weapons stockpiles, and says Syria must give international inspectors unfettered access to them with the goal of removing them by the middle of next year.

The accord will be encapsulated in a UN resolution under Chapter VII of the UN charter. That chapter allows for use of force to ensure compliance, although Russia is certain to opposes this once diplomacy shifts to the UN.

"While we have made important progress, much more work remains to be done," Obama said.

"The United States will continue working with Russia, the United Kingdom, France, the United Nations and others to ensure that this process is verifiable, and that there are consequences should the Assad regime not comply with the framework agreed today. And, if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act," the president added.

Earlier, in his weekly radio address, released as the accord in Geneva was emerging, Obama spoke of Assad in very harsh terms.

"A dictator must not be allowed to gas children in their beds with impunity. And we cannot risk poison gas becoming the new weapon of choice for tyrants and terrorists the world over," he said.

In his statement welcoming the accord Obama said "the use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world is an affront to human dignity and a threat to the security of people everywhere."

He said, "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."

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