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U.S. and Russia Disagree on Consequences if Syria Doesn’t Comply With Arms Deal

September 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Now more on Syria and the deal to dispose of its chemical weapons. Developments proceeded on two fronts today, at the United Nations and in France.

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Paris teed to win allied support for the U.S.-Russian agreement while keeping the threat of force alive.

JOHN KERRY, U.S. Secretary of State: If Assad fails to comply with the terms of this framework, make no mistake; we are all agreed — and that includes Russia — that there will be consequences.

LAURENT FABIUS, French Foreign Minister (through interpreter): We want concrete and verifiable actions very quickly, bearing in mind that all options must remain on the table if the statements are not followed up on the ground.

GWEN IFILL: The French and British allies, joined by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, offered promised an international conference to rally support for the moderate opposition in Syria. The United Nations weighed in today as well with the contents of a new report.

Among its findings: Chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against civilians, including children on a relatively large scale.

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Secretary Ban Ki-Moon said sarin gas was used.

BAN KI-MOON, United Nations Secretary-General: The findings are beyond doubt and beyond the pale. This is a war crime and grave violation of the 1925 protocol and other rules of international law.

GWEN IFILL: The report, however, didn’t say who was responsible. The U.S.-Russian agreement hammered out Saturday in Geneva will be translated into a U.N. Security Council resolution.

Under that proposal, the Assad government must provide an inventory of all of its chemical weapons within one week. The components of the weapons program must then be removed or destroyed by mid-2014. If Syria fails to comply, the U.S. and Russia are to return to the U.N. Security Council to explore how to punish the regime.

On that last point, Kerry insisted today the agreement authorizes the use of military force. But, in Moscow, Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, strongly disagreed. He said threatening force won’t bring peace to Syria.

SERGEI LAVROV, Russian Foreign Minister (through interpreter): If we want to solve the problem of destroying Syrian chemical weapons, then the U.S.-Russian road map opens a real, professional, concrete, and practical solution. If some find it more important to constantly threaten, to intimidate, to look for a reason to attack, then this is probably a way to hint to the opponents of the regime that new provocations are expected from them.

GWEN IFILL: At the White House today, President Obama sounded notes of both hope and skepticism, calling the agreement an important step, but an interim one.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: We’re not there yet, but if properly implemented, this agreement could end the threat these weapons pose not only the Syrian people, but to the world.

GWEN IFILL: In Damascus, the Syrian government said it will comply with the U.S.-Russian deal, even as fresh conventional warfare raged in the city’s suburbs. But the main opposition group, the Syrian National Opposition, charged the Assad regime is simply playing for time.

Even with a framework deal in place, and a newly critical report from the U.N. in hand, there remain new questions about what happens next.