U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the U.S. and Russia have agreed on steps Syria must take to verify it is getting rid of its weapons of mass destruction, including chemical weapons.
After a third day of talks Saturday in Geneva between Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, the top U.S. diplomat said the two countries agreed that Syria must submit a comprehensive list of such weapons in one week.
Kerry said they also agreed that Syria must provide the immediate right to inspect all such weapons sights, which he says will lead to the destruction of the weapons outside of Syria.
The two diplomats and U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi have been discussing for three days a Russian plan on how to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control. The move could avert a U.S. military strike in retaliation for the Syrian government's alleged poison-gas attack on civilians last month near Damascus.
Meanwhile, Obama administration officials said Friday that the president will not insist on a threat of military action against Syria in any U.N. Security Council resolution. The decision likely is based on the knowledge that Russia would veto any such threat in a resolution. However, officials say President Barack Obama reserves the right to go ahead with strikes against Syria without U.N. backing.
The president said in his weekly Saturday address that "any agreement needs to verify that the Assad regime and Russia are keeping their commitments." He said "that means working to turn Syria's chemical weapons over to international control and ultimately destroying them." Mr. Obama said if diplomacy fails, the U.S. and the international community "must remain prepared to act."
The president said the U.S. will "maintain its military posture in the region to keep the pressue on the Assad regime."
In New York, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said Friday he expects a report from a team investigating the August 21 nerve-gas attack will be an "overwhelming report" that shows chemical weapons were used. The team's mandate in the report expected to be released Monday is to say only whether chemical agents were used, not who used them.
In another development, U.N. investigators said Friday that Syrian government forces were systematically shelling hospitals in rebel-controlled areas to stop the sick and wounded from getting medical treatment. The investigators said the tactic was being used as a "weapon of war."
Kerry will travel to Israel Sunday for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then to Paris for talks Monday with the foreign ministers of France, Britain and Saudi Arabia.
President Obama said Friday that he is hopeful that the negotiations Kerry is having will "bear fruit."
Speaking in Washington after meeting with Kuwait's leader, Mr. Obama said any agreement to destroy Syria's chemical weapons must be "verifiable."
"I repeated what I've said publicly, which is any agreement needs to be verifiable and enforceable."
Kerry says he and Lavrov have agreed to do "homework" as part of a bid to get Syria's warring factions to a conference on a transitional government.
"We both agreed to do that homework and meet again in New York around the time of the U.N. General Assembly, around the 28th [of September], in order to see if it is possible then to find a date for that conference."
The United States says it has confirmed that more than 1,400 people died in the gas attack, and that there is no doubt the Syrian military was responsible. The Assad government contends rebels themselves carried out the gas attack.
Syria said Thursday it will join an international ban on chemical weapons, but says it will take a month to list all of its chemical weapons stockpile. Until this week, Syria had repeatedly denied possessing any chemical weapons.
President Bashar al-Assad has said he will only transfer his chemical-weapons arsenal to international control if the U.S. drops its threat of military action against him.
Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Syria's decision to join the global poison gas ban. He said Friday that the gesture shows the Syrian government's "serious intentions" about resolving the conflict.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon has expressed his continuing concern about the civil war in Syria, which has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced at least six million since early 2011. The U.N. chief did not directly answer questions about whether Mr. Assad should step down.
"What happened is that he has committed many crimes against humanity and therefore I am sure that there will be, surely, the process of accountability when everything is over."
Mr. Ban said the international community must press for a political solution and that it is time for the parties to stop fighting and start talking.