Negotiations between the United States and Russia on securing Syria’s chemical weapons have reached a critical turning point after two days of intense diplomacy, with a deal key to a resumption of peace talks hanging in the balance.
After lasting late into Friday night, discussions entered a third day on Saturday with U.S. officials pointing to at least limited progress on some elements of a Russian proposal to inventory, isolate and eventually destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stocks.
Saturday’s session in Geneva, led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, comes as the Obama administration warned that there is a timetable for a diplomatic resolution of the weapons issue.
They are at a “pivotal point,” a U.S. official said Friday. Progress was made on how to account for Syria’s chemical weapons inventory, the official said, adding that the U.S. and Russia had narrowed their differences over what each country believes to be the size of the Syrian stockpiles.
Administration officials also said that President Barack Obama was open to a U.N. Security Council resolution that did not include military force as a punishment if Syrian President Bashar Assad doesn’t follow through on promises regarding the weapons. While Russia would be all but certain to veto any measure with such a penalty, Mr Obama’s willingness to concede the point was likely to be viewed as a step forward.
Still, the administration officials said, Mr Obama would retain the authority to order U.S. airstrikes against Syria. Mr Obama himself said that any agreement to remove Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile “needs to be verifiable and enforceable.”
After meeting Friday with the emir of Kuwait, Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah, Mr Obama said the U.S. and Kuwait are agreed that the use of chemical weapons in Syria was “a criminal act.”
“It is absolutely important for the international community to respond in not only deterring repeated use of chemical weapons but hopefully getting those chemical weapons outside of Syria,” Mr Obama said.