Syria’s chemical weapons must be destroyed or removed by mid-2014, under an agreement between the US and Russia.
US Secretary of State John Kerry outlined a framework document under which Syria must hand over a full list of its stockpile within a week.
If Syria fails to comply, the deal could be enforced by a UN resolution backed by the threat of sanctions or military force.
The US says the Syrian regime killed hundreds in a gas attack last month.
Russia has significant leverage over the regime in Damascus, as it supplies its weapons. Perhaps more importantly, Russia has been watching President Assad’s back at the United Nations. It seems likely that the Russians will already have had some sort of promise of co-operation from the Assad regime.
The timescale of work to be done is ambitious. But a logical assumption is that the chemical stockpiles and factories are in territory held by the regime. If so, it means access depends on President Assad’s orders, not on the progress of the war.
The Free Syria Army, the loose coalition of armed rebels that has been hoping for Western help to fight the Assad regime, has rejected the agreement. Less than a week ago the FSA believed that the Americans were about to launch a military attack, which it hoped would tip the balance of the war its way. Now it believes that the Americans have been sidetracked.
Whether or not chemical weapons are destroyed is not the point. The FSA want the Americans to destroy the regime’s military power, and the US agreement with Russia means the chances of that happening are receding.
The government of Bashar al-Assad denies the allegations and has accused the rebels of carrying out the attack on 21 August.
Syria recently agreed to join the global Chemical Weapons Convention, and on Saturday the UN said it would come under the treaty from 14 October.
In a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Mr Kerry called on the Assad government to live up to its public commitments.
“There can be no room for games, or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime,” he said.
Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov said if Syria failed to comply, then a UN resolution would be sought under Chapter VII of the UN charter, which allows for the use of force.
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