US Seeks Wide Support for Syria Arms Deal

Secretary of State John Kerry
Secretary of State John Kerry

PARIS -- Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday briefed some of the United States' closest allies on a broad agreement to end Syria's chemical weapons program, pressing for broad support for the plan that averted U.S. military strikes.

A day after visiting Israeli leaders, Kerry was meeting in Paris with his counterparts from France, Britain, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who had pressed for strikes against the government of Bashar Assad after an Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds.

U.S. and Russian officials reached an ambitious agreement over the weekend calling for an inventory of Syria's chemical weapons program within a week, with the program eradicated by mid-2014.

Those who blame Assad for the chemical attack and supported military strikes say the pressure is on Assad to uphold his end of any deal.

"If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act," President Barack Obama warned Sunday in an interview.

Obama's comments were echoed in France, the only other country to commit military resources against Syria.

"The military option must remain; otherwise there will be no pressure," French President Francois Hollande said in an address Sunday.

A United Nations resolution would detail how Syria can secure and destroy its stockpile. The content of that is under discussion Monday.

An official close to Hollande said there was firm agreement among France, Britain and the United States that the resolution must be "strong, robust, precise" and must include a calendar of benchmarks for Assad. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Hollande also agreed to continue to work toward a political solution with the Syrian opposition, the officials said.

The Aug. 21 attack unfolded as a U.N. chemical weapons team was in Syria to investigate earlier reported attacks. After days of delays, the inspectors were allowed access to victims, doctors and others in the Damascus suburbs afflicted by the poison gas. The U.N.'s chief weapons inspector turned over his team's report on Sunday, and the Security Council is due to take it up in a closed session Monday.

The Assad regime insists that the attack was carried out by rebels. The inspection team led by Swedish expert Ake Sellstrom was mandated to report on whether chemical weapons were used and which ones they were -- not on who was responsible.

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