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US, Russia Take Major Step Forward on Syria Crisis

The United States and Russia have agreed on a framework for ending Syria's chemical weapons program that includes a requirement for Syria to submit a comprehensive list of such weapons in one week.

Putting aside differences between the two countries, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry outlined the plan during a joint news conference in Geneva Saturday, with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.



"We have reached a shared assessment of the amount and type of chemical weapons possessed by the Assad regime and we are committed to the rapid assumption of control by the international community of those weapons."



Kerry said they agreed that Syria must provide the immediate right to inspect all such weapons sites, which he says will lead to the destruction of the weapons outside of Syria.

The plan calls for the elimination or removal of all chemical weapons material and equipment by mid-2014.

Kerry will brief Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem Sunday on the latest developments, then head to Paris to meet with his French, British and Saudi counterparts Monday to discuss Syria.



The agreement on the proposal followed three days of talks between the top diplomats and U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi.

During the talks, U.S. and Russian officials agreed that Syria currently holds about 1,000 tons of chemical agents and precursors, including sulfur mustard and sarin gas. U.S. officials believe there are about 45 sites where those munitions and related equipment are stored but say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime may have moved some of those supplies.

Syrian compliance with the agreement could avert a U.S. military strike in retaliation for the Syrian government's alleged poison gas attack on civilians last month near Damascus.

The United States says it has confirmed that more than 1,400 people died in the attack, and that there is no doubt the Syrian military was responsible. The Assad government contends rebels carried out the gas attack.

China became the latest country to welcome the deal. In Beijing Sunday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi told his visiting French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, that the agreement will ease tensions in Syria.

France and Britain welcomed the deal on Saturday. Fabius called it a "significant step forward." France and the United States have been the main advocates of military strikes against Syria for the alleged chemical weapons attack.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the plan and said he hoped it would lead to efforts to end the "appalling suffering inflicted on the Syrian people."

However, Syria's main opposition group rejected the plan. General Selim Idriss of the Free Syrian Army said the group will continue its fight against the Assad government..



" We don't recognize the Russian initiative and we think the Russians and the Syrian regime are playing games to waste time and to win time for the criminal regime in Damascus."



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 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.

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