Before the news conference, Lavrov said that he had not spoken with Syrian officials while he was negotiating in Geneva.
Obama administration officials say that Russia’s role was critical because it has been a major backer of the Assad government, and the U.S. assumption is that much if not all of the accord has Assad’s assent.
At the United Stations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged to support the agreement, and he announced that Syria had also formally acceded to the international Chemical Weapons Convention, effective Oct. 14.
In his statement, Obama called the use of chemical weapons “an affront to human dignity and a threat to the security of people everywhere.”
“We have a duty to preserve a world free from the fear of chemical weapons for our children,” he said. “Today marks an important step towards achieving this goal.”
Foreign Secretary William Hague of Britain issued a statement after a call with Kerry in which he welcomed the framework agreement on Syrian chemical weapons, describing it as a “a significant step forward.”
It was a British Parliamentary vote against conducting airstrikes that put off momentum by the United States, France and Britain to conduct airstrikes in the wake of the August chemical strike in Syria.
“The priority must now be full and prompt implementation of the agreement, to ensure the transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons to international control,” Hague said.
Titled “Framework For Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons,” the agreement is four pages long, including its technical annexes.
Under the framework, an inspection of the chemical weapons sites that the Syrian government declares must be completed by November. Equipment for producing chemical weapons and filling munitions with poison gas must be destroyed by November.
The document also says that there is to be “complete elimination of all chemical weapons material and equipment in the first half of 2014.”
A priority under the agreement reached Saturday is to take steps to preclude or diminish the Assad government’s ability to employ chemical weapons before they are destroyed.
A U.S. official said that such steps could include burning the least volatile component of binary weapons, a type of chemical agent that becomes potent only when separate elements are mixed. Another way to disable at least part of Syria’s stockpile, the official said, is to destroy the equipment for mixing the binary component or destroying the munitions or bombs that would be filed with chemical agents.
A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity under State Department protocol, said that the United States and Russia had agreed that Syria has 1,000 tons of chemical weapons, including Sarin and mustard gas.
The United States believes there are at least 45 sites in Syria associated with its chemical weapons program. Nearly half of these have “exploitable quantities” of chemical weapons, though the U.S. official says that some of the agents may have been moved by the Assad government.
The U.S. official said there was no indication that any of Syria’s chemical stocks had been moved to Iraq or Lebanon, as the Syrian opposition had charged.
“We believe they are under regime control,” the U.S. official said.
Russia has not accepted the U.S. data on the number of chemical weapons sites.
The difference appears to reflect the larger disagreement as to who was responsible for an Aug. 21 attack that the United States says killed at least 1,400 civilians, many of them women and children.
If the Russians were to agree both on the number of chemical weapons sites and the fact that, as U.S. officials believe, the sites are all in government-controlled areas, that would suggest that the Assad government was culpable for the attack and not the rebel forces as the Russians have asserted.
The four-page framework agreement, including its technical annexes, are to be incorporated in a U.N. Security Council resolution that is to be adopted in New York.
One concern about how to implement the deal, however, involves how to protect international inspectors who come to Syria. There will be no cease-fire so the inspectors can carry out their work.
Asked whether rebels would aid the inspectors, Idris, the Western-backed rebel military commander, called the issue “complicated,” saying, “If investigators come, we will facilitate the mission.”
He said there were no chemical weapons in rebel controlled areas, adding, “I don’t know if this will just mean that investigators will pass through the regions that are under rebel control. We are ready.”Continued...