The United States and Russia have reached an agreement to remove or destroy Syria's collection of chemical weapons, possibly heading off a military strike by the U.S. against the Assad regime.
Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov, completed a "framework" agreement (which you can read right here), that will set up a process where Syria will lose all of its chemical weapons by the middle of 2014.
“If fully implemented, this framework can provide greater protection and security to the world,” Kerry said in a press conference after completingthe deal with Russia.
A military strike against Syria seemed imminent last week, as the Obama administration pushed lawmakers to approve strategic bombing. Following an off-hand remark by Secretary of State Kerry however, efforts have since been focused on getting Syria to agree to hand over its chemical weapon. Both Russia and Syria are eager to move forward with the agreement, which will also help the Obama administration avoid an unpopular military option.
Kerry and Lavrov met until midnight on Friday evening in Geneva, before reconvening talks this morning while sipping coffee next to the pool (diplomacy, the glamour). The first test for the agreement comes this week, when Syrian officials must list and locate all of their chemical weapons. By November, inspectors will visit the sites, checking to see if all equipment used to make chemical weapons are destroyed by that time.
Destroying chemical weapons is not the easiest task, however. It is believed Syria has 1,000 metric tons of sarin gas, and while the U.S. and Russia have the equipment to make such weapons inert, getting the equipment to Syria or transferring the weapons out will be risky. Already resistance fighters in Syria have decided to not comply with any cease-fire. General Idris of the Free Syrian Army said in a press conference in Istanbul that "you cannot allow the murderer to get away with murder. The chemical weapons agreement is between the international community and the regime.” In the past, the U.S. has simply disposed of chemical weapons by dumping them in the ocean.
While a military strike is now postponed, it is not entirely off the table. France will now push the United Nations Security Council to invoke Chapter 7, a resolution that will allow countries to strike Syria if it does not comply with the U.S. and Russian disarmament agreement.