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U.S., Russia Reach Agreement On Syria


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. And the United States and Russia have hammered out an apparent deal to try to rid Syria of its chemical weapons. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the news this morning after several days of intense talks in Geneva.

SECRETARY JOHN KERRY: The world will now expect the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments, and as I said at the outset of these negotiations, there can be no games, no room for avoidance or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime.

SIMON: The idea of removing Syria's chemical weapons first came up less than a week ago when Mr. Kerry himself posed the question about whether Syrian President al-Assad could be disarmed, only to state he didn't see how it could be done. Now he says it can be. Joining us to talk about all these developments is NPR's Michele Kelemen from Geneva. Michelle, thanks for being with us.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: It's nice to be here, Scott.

SIMON: And what's the timetable?

KELEMEN: Well, Kerry made clear that it's going to be fast and the U.S. isn't going to let Syria hide behind the usual protocol, which would have given Syria at least a month after formally joining the conventional weapons convention just to send the data about its stockpiles. Let's listen to hear what he had to say about that.

KERRY: The United States and Russia are committed to the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons in the soonest and safest manner. We agreed that Syria must submit within a week.

KELEMEN: And Kerry says that he and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, shared notes about how much they think that Syria has in terms of chemical weapons. He also said that inspectors are going to need to be on the ground in November and that the removal and destruction should take place during the first half of next year.

SIMON: And what happens if at any point along the route Bashar al-Assad and the Syrian regime seem to be delaying, dragging their feet, otherwise not complying?

KELEMEN: Well, both Kerry and Lavrov said that the idea would be reporting any noncompliance to this agreement to the U.N. Security Council and the U.N. Security Council would have to come up with compromises. You know, this has been an issue of debate of how you implement this, and Secretary Kerry said the idea is to have a binding U.N. Security Council resolution.

Lavrov, on the other hand, said that it won't make any consequences, won't be automatic. You won't see any direct military action or quick economic sanctions but rather it will spark a debate within the Security Council.

SIMON: So, I mean, to understand this in its clearest terms, the prospect of military action, which the administration says was responsible for bringing Syria to the table, is not part of this agreement.

KELEMEN: It doesn't seem to be. I mean, Secretary Kerry said that the president, of course, has the right to carry out military action when needed, when the U.S. feels threatened, but it sounds like what they're doing is finessing this issue so that rather than sparking a military response if Syria doesn't comply with this, that it will spark another debate in the U.N. Security Council.

SIMON: And did anyone ever express any concrete ideas as to how this process is going to proceed while Syria's in the midst of a civil war?

KELEMEN: Well, this is going to be a huge challenge technically. Secretary Kerry said the silver lining of sorts in all of this is that the U.S. believes that Bashar al-Assad's government has kept pretty much a strong control over its chemical weapons and has moved them during the course of the war to areas that the Syrian government controls so that it won't be in rebel-held areas.

The Russians have suggested that the rebels may have carried out the chemical weapons attack on August 21st and he says that all sides are going to be responsible for making sure these international inspectors are safe.

SIMON: NPR's Michele Kelemen in Geneva. Thanks so much.

KELEMEN: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

United States & World Weekend Edition Saturday
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.