Damascus calls US-Russia deal ‘victory for Syria’

MOSCOW - The US-Russia deal aimed at removing Syrian chemical weapons averted war and is "a victory for Syria," the Syrian minister of state for national reconciliation Ali Haidar said Sunday.

"On one hand, it will help the Syrians emerge from the crisis and on the other it has allowed for averting war against Syria...," Haidar said in an interview with Russian news agency RIA Novosti in comments translated into Russian.

It was the first Syrian reaction to the deal US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov clinched in Geneva on Saturday, under which Syria has a week to submit a list of its chemical weapons stocks and hand all of them over for destruction by mid-2014.

The two sides agreed that the United Nations Security Council, where Russia holds the right to veto any initiative, would take unspecified action if Syria violated the terms of the international convention banning chemical weapons.

Haidar, speaking in Damascus, said the framework agreement would prepare the ground for peace talks between President Bashar al-Assad's regime and the rebels.

The deal "provides international support for all the representatives of the Syrian people to sit down at one table and to resolve their internal problems at the next stage," he said.

Haidar said that the deal "gives the opportunity to solve in the future all the problems of Syria, not only the problem of chemical weapons."

It was Russia that proposed for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons after Kerry said Assad's regime would never agree to do this, and Haidar explicitly thanked Russia for its initiative.

"This deal is the result of Russian diplomacy and the Russian leadership. It's a victory for Syria that was achieved thanks to our Russian friends," he said.

Before the deal, President Barack Obama had threatened to carry out US military strikes to punish Assad for unleashing what US intelligence said was a chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people.

Obama said that if the Assad regime does not live up to the deal, "the United States remains prepared to act."

Assad has denied responsibility for the attack, saying that opposition forces carried it out using chemical weapons supplied from abroad and the United States was using it as an excuse for military intervention.

Russia, one of Syria's few remaining allies, has backed this interpretation, with President Vladimir Putin saying he believed rebel forces were responsible in a New York Times opinion piece last week.