US, Russia may have Syria deal but distrust remains: analysts

WASHINGTON - Despite Moscow and Washington reaching a deal on stripping Syria of chemical weapons, the progress doesn't disguise the mutual distrust prevailing between the two countries, analysts say.

The landmark agreement hashed out in Geneva gives Syria a week to hand over details of the regime's stockpile, which the deal aims to destroy by the middle of next year, thus avoiding US-led military action.

Swiftly hailed by the West and rejected by the Syrian rebels, the accord also left the door open to unspecified sanctions if Damascus fails to comply.

But the deal is unlikely to thaw long-frosty ties between the former Cold War foes.

Leaders in Russia and the United States have been engaged in a bitter dispute over the US threat of military strikes on Moscow's close ally Syria in the wake of an alleged chemical weapons attack orchestrated by President Bashar al-Assad's regime on August 21.

The Geneva agreement "won't improve US-Russian relations, which are based on distrust," Moscow-based Center for Analysis of Mideast Conflicts chief Alexander Shumilin told AFP.

Russian President Vladimir Putin caused an uproar in the United States this week with his dismissal of "American exceptionalism". The White House quickly shot back by saying that, in contrast to Moscow, Washington promotes human rights and freedom of speech.

In his New York Times opinion piece published Wednesday, Putin also argued that Syrian rebels were behind the deadly attack on the outskirts of Damascus, suggesting they did so to provoke foreign military intervention in their favour.

"Putin emerges from this deal looking like the bad guy who won over Obama but whose goal is to save the criminal regime under the pretense of fighting for peace," Shumilin said.

Russia and China - both veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council - have on three occasions voted down resolutions that would have put pressure on Assad.

Russia has repeatedly made clear its opposition to military threats against Syria and underscored its veto power.

In announcing they had clinched a deal, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov boasted about their joint determination to destroy Assad's chemical arsenal "very rapidly" and their commitment to "peaceful settlements in Syria."

"At the end of the day, the things that most mattered I believed that we got," a senior US official said.

"Did they agree to every single word we wanted? No. Did we have hard-fought negotiations? Yes... But we feel we were able to do this to move forward and do what we set out to do."

Lavrov, meanwhile, pointed to "false information" about the Syrian arsenal.

Obama, for his part, warned that he was ready to take military action if diplomacy fails, saying: "We are not just going to take Russia and Assad's word for it."

And the two countries remain at opposite ends when it comes to the long-raging conflict in Syria, with Moscow closely allied to Damascus while Washington has aligned itself with the rebels.

In August, Obama condemned the Russians for slipping back into "Cold War thinking and a Cold War mentality," and initially cancelled scheduled talks with Putin, who returned to the Kremlin in May 2012.

And Putin's decision to grant temporary asylum to refugee US leaker Edward Snowden only further inflamed Washington.

But in the end, the one-on-one meeting between Putin and Obama did take place as the Syrian war raged on.

Moscow's heavy weight in Syria alone is reason enough for Washington to be forced to keep open lines of communication with the Russians, according to Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

"The United States should seek to include Russia in such an effort, making it clear the Cold War is over, and that the United States will not try to exclude Russia from playing a role in Syria," he said.