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France welcomes plan to secure Syria's chemical arms by US and Russia

John Kerry and Sergey V. Lavrov announce their plan in Geneva to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria
John Kerry and Sergey V. Lavrov announce their plan in Geneva to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria REUTERS/Larry Downing

The United States and Russia agreed Saturday on a plan for removing or destroying Syria's chemical weapons by the middle of next year. Under the plan, international inspectors must enter Syrian grounds by November with "unfettered" access, said US Secretary of State John Kerry, at a Geneva news conference after nearly three days of talks with Russian foreign minister Sergey V. Lavrov.

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"There is no military solution to the conflict in Syria, it has to be political," Kerry said. "And we together remain committed to getting there."

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has one week to disclose details, including locations of unconventional weaponry – a timeframe much shorter than the usual 30 days given to new signatories of the international Chemical Weapons Convention.

Officials from both countries have also pinpointed the extent of Syria’s chemical weapons cache, key to any plan aimed at controlling or dismantling it.

The United States estimated Syria’s inventory at around 1,000 metric tonnes of various chemical agents, including mustard and sarin gas, sulfur and VX, with Russian counts initially tallied much lower.

From what seemed like imminent strikes just a couple of weeks ago, Kerry still warned that military action remains an option by the US and its allies if Assad doesn’t display full compliance amid a civil war that has killed more than 110,000 people.

However, this remained a nebulous fall back plan with Russia – as a main Syrian ally – strongly opposed to any force.

The foundation for a plan agreed upon Saturday will be drawn up under Chapter Seven of the UN Security Council’s charter, which authorizes military action.

The plan stems from off-the-cuff remarks from Kerry on Monday during a news conference in London when he was asked if Assad could be disarmed. Kerry also asserted that he brought this to the table on purpose, saying ""The language of diplomacy sometimes requires that you put things to the test and we did."

France, which put forth a proposal to punish Syria for alleged use of chemical weapons on August 21, welcomed the landmark deal.

"The plan is a significant step forward," said Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, adding that the he was still expecting further information from UN inspectors.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the deal, without stopping short of saying that he hopes it will lead to fuller efforts to end the extensive suffering of the Syrian people.

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