US President Barack Obama welcomed an agreement Saturday to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile as an "important, concrete step" toward the ultimate goal of eliminating them but warned that the US remains prepared to act if the attempt at a diplomatic solution fails.
Obama said the deal between the US and Russia offers the chance to destroy weapons the US and more than 30 governments maintain were used by Syrian President Bashar Assad to kill more than 1,400 Syrians during an attack last month in the suburbs of the capital of Damascus.
Assad has blamed the use of chemical weapons on rebels who have been fighting for more than two years to unseat him.
“I welcome the progress made between the United States and Russia through our talks in Geneva, which represents an important, concrete step toward the goal of moving Syria's chemical weapons under international control so that they may ultimately be destroyed,” Obama said in a statement released soon after he arrived at Andrews Air Force Base in the Maryland suburbs of Washington for his weekly golf game.
"This framework provides the opportunity for the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons in a transparent, expeditious and verifiable manner, which could end the threat these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but to the region and the world," Obama said.
Obama threatened military strikes against Syria in response to the August 21 attack, saying the use of chemical weapons anywhere must not go unchecked. But in an unexpected reversal, he put off ordering a strike to seek backing from Congress, but lawmakers in both political parties overwhelmingly opposed the military option.
After Syria agreed to a surprise Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control, Obama asked Congress to delay a vote to allow time for tense negotiations between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to "bear fruit."
Besides possibly helping Syria avoid punishing US military strikes, the agreement Kerry announced Saturday in Geneva while most Americans slept also offered Obama and Congress a potential way out of an unpopular situation. Polls show many Americans overwhelmingly oppose US military involvement in another Middle Eastern country.
Obama said the international community expects Syria to live up to its public commitments to hand over its chemical weapons stockpile.