UK & World News
Syria: US Strike Threat Remains If Plan Fails
US President Barack Obama has indicated that the threat of military action remains should Syria fail to comply with a plan to destroy its chemical weapons.
Mr Obama welcomed the newly-brokered US and Russian plan, calling it an "important, concrete step", but warned that "if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act".
In a statement, he said the diplomatic solution was working partly due to America's "credible threat" of military force.
Earlier he told the US public, in a television address, that the country would "maintain our military posture in the region to keep the pressure on the Assad regime".
The US and Russia have given Syria one week to submit a "comprehensive list" of its chemical weapons stockpiles - otherwise, the US will seek a UN resolution that could still authorise strikes.
On their final day of talks in Geneva, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that once the details had been handed over the Assad regime would have until November to allow UN inspectors access to the sites.
Destruction of the regime's chemical weapons must then be complete by mid-2014.
Syria has previously said it would need a month to hand over initial details of its weapons stash.
The disarmament plan - instigated by Russia - managed to avert a planned US Congress vote on potential military strikes earlier this week, which President Obama looked liked losing.
Speaking in Geneva, Secretary of State Kerry reiterated that he now expected no stalling tactics from Syria.
He said: "The world will now expect the Assad regime to live up to its commitments ... there can be no room for games. Or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime ... Syria must allow immediate, unfettered access to chemical sites".
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also hailed the US-Russia agreement as "excellent" and said its significance was "hard to overestimate".
The rapport between the two men is seen by many experts as having played a crucial part in getting a difficult deal done.
Russia has long backed away from sanctioning the Syrian regime and strongly resists the possibility of military action.
Mr Lavrov and Mr Kerry also told journalists their teams of experts had reached "a shared assessment" of President Bashar al Assad's existing stockpile.
The US has estimated that Syria possesses around 1,000 metric tonnes of various chemical agents, including mustard and sarin gas, sulfur and VX.
The Russian estimates were initially much lower, according to US officials, but Mr Kerry said the two countries had reconciled their different assessments.
A US official told reporters that Washington believed there were 45 sites across Syria linked to the country's chemical weapons programme.
"Roughly half have exploitable quantities of chemical weapons materials," the official said, adding that all of the sites were currently under the control of the government.
France, an important ally for the US in recent weeks, welcomed the chemical weapons deal.
"The draft agreement reached in Geneva about eliminating the Syrian regime's chemical weapons is an important step forward," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.
Fabius said a Russia-U.S. deal to remove Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons was an important first step and called for a political solution to address the mounting death toll in Syria.
He made the comments to reporters in Beijing after meeting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
Fabius will then hold more discussions on the plan's implementation on Monday, when Mr Kerry and British Foreign Secretary William Hague travel to Paris.
Mr Hague said the UK government was also firmly behind the plan.
He tweeted on Saturday: "Have spoken to Secretary Kerry. UK welcomes US-Russia agreement on #Syria chemical weapons. Urgent work on implementation now to take place."
He added: "The priority must now be full and prompt implementation of the agreement, to ensure the transfer of Syria's chemical weapons to international control.
"The onus is now on the Assad regime to comply with this agreement in full. The international community, including Russia, must hold the regime to account."
But influential US Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said the agreement was a debacle.
In a joint statement, the two Republican lawmakers voiced fear that Washington's friends and foes alike will view the agreement as an "act of provocative weakness on America's part."
Syria's opposition also rejected the US-Russian initiative.
Speaking from Istanbul, the Free Syrian Army's chief said the move would not solve the crisis, claiming Assad's forces had been moving their chemical weapons stockpiles to Lebanon and Iraq over the last few days.
"We in the Free Syrian Army are unconcerned by the implementation of any part of the initiative ... I and my brothers in arms will continue to fight until the regime falls," General Selim Idriss said.
The alleged poison gas attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21 killed more than 1,400 people, according to the US government.
However, the Syrian regime has long denied the claims and says rebel forces were responsible.