US, Russia seal landmark deal on Syria weapons

US, Russia seal landmark deal on Syria weapons
A supporter of Syrian president Bashar Hafez al-Assad waves a flag bearing a picture of the president at a rally to urge Congress to vote against a limited military strike against the Syrian military in response to allegations that Assad has used sarin gas to kill civilians on September 7, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.

GENEVA - The United States and Russia unveiled an ambitious plan to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014, sparking a diplomatic drive Sunday to secure broad international backing for the deal.

The landmark agreement, announced in Geneva on Saturday, left the door open to unspecified sanctions if Damascus fails to comply, and was swiftly hailed by the West.

However it was equally swiftly rejected by Syrian rebels who warned it would not halt the bloodshed in the conflict that has killed more than 110,000 people and displaced millions in two and a half years.

Under the accord struck in three days of talks in Geneva between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad now has a week to hand over details of his regime's stockpile.

Kerry said Assad's regime must also provide "immediate and unfettered" access to inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

"The inspectors must be on the ground no later than November... and the goal is to establish the removal by halfway through next year," said Kerry, flanked by Lavrov.

The pressure is now on Assad to deliver, with US President Barack Obama warning that "the United States remains prepared to act" if Damascus fails to comply.

But influential US Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said the agreement was a debacle.

In a joint statement, the two Republican lawmakers voiced fear that Washington's friends and foes alike will view the agreement as an "act of provocative weakness on America's part."

Kerry said the agreed steps would be encapsulated in a UN Security Council resolution drawn up under Chapter Seven of the organisation's charter, which provides for enforcement through sanctions, including the possible use of military force.

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