U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached agreement Saturday on a framework for Syria to destroy all of its chemical weapons, and said they would seek a U.N. Security Council resolution that could authorize sanctions - short of military action - if Syrian President Bashar Assad's government fails to comply.
The deal announced by the diplomats on the third day of intense negotiations in Geneva includes what Kerry called "a shared assessment" of Syria's weapons stockpile, and a timetable and measures for Assad's government to comply.
"The world will now expect the Assad regime to live up to its public commitment," Kerry told a packed news conference in the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva, where he has been staying and the negotiations were conducted since Thursday night. "There can be no games, no room for avoidance, or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime."
The deal calls for international inspectors to be on the ground in Syria by November and to complete their initial work by the end of that month. All of Syria's chemical weapons stocks, material and equipment would have to be destroyed or removed by mid-2014.
Administration officials had said that President Barack Obama was open to a Security Council resolution that did not include military force as a punishment if Assad doesn't follow through on promises regarding the weapons. While Russia would be all but certain to veto any measure with such a penalty, Obama's willingness to concede the point - after threatening a U.S.-led military strike with or without approval by the U.S. Congress - provided a step forward.
"I have no doubt that the combination of the threat of force and the willingness to pursue diplomacy helped to bring us to this moment," Kerry said.
"Providing this framework is fully implemented, it can end the threat these weapons pose, not only to the Syrian people, but also to their neighbors, to the region, and because of the threat of proliferation, this framework can provide greater protection and security to the world," he said.
But the stakes have been especially high in Geneva, because the negotiations between the United States and Russia on securing Syria's chemical weapons also are considered key to breaking the international stalemate that has so far blocked a resumption of peace talks to end the Syrian civil war, now in its third year.
"We have committed to a standard that says, verify and verify," Kerry said.
Among the highlights of the agreement is that the U.S. and Russia would agree to work together on a new, binding Security Council resolution that would ensure verification of the agreement to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons stocks and remove its capability to produce such weapons.
The resolution would allow for punitive measures for non-compliance, but stop short of military action, if the 15-nation Security Council approves them. The U.S. and Russia are two of the five permanent Security Council members with a veto. The others are Britain, China, and France.
Another major feature of the agreement is that the U.S. and Russia plan to give Syria one week, until Sept. 21, to submit "a comprehensive listing, including names, types and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions, and local and form of storage, production, and research and development facilities."
In addition, the U.S. and Russia have agreed that international inspectors should be on the ground in Syria by November and complete their initial work by the end of the month. They must be given "immediate and unfettered" access to inspect all sites.
Notably, Kerry said they had agreed on grounds under which they might request a Security Council "Chapter 7" resolution at the United Nations, which is a measure that could include military and non-military sanctions.
But Lavrov, who said the agreement was "based on consensus and compromise and professionalism," indicated there would be limits to using a Chapter 7 resolution, which Russia would almost certainly veto if it specifically authorized a military strike such as what President Barack Obama has threatened.
"Any violations of procedures ... would be looked at by the Security Council and if they are approved, the Security Council would take the required measures, concrete measures," Lavrov said.
"Nothing is said about the use of force or about any automatic sanctions. All violations should be approved by the Security Council," he added.
Kerry also said any violations will result in "measures" from the Security Council, while Lavrov said the violations must be sent to the Security Council from the board of the chemical weapons convention before sanctions - short of the use of force - would be considered.
Kerry said the pair and their teams of experts had come to agreement on the exact size of Syria's weapons stockpile, which had been a sticking point before their meetings in Geneva. But in marathon sessions into early morning hours, the U.S. and Russia succeeded in narrowing their differences.
The agreement over the Russian proposal to inventory, isolate and eventually destroy Syria's chemical weapons stocks comes as the Obama administration warned that there is a timetable for a diplomatic resolution of the weapons issue.
Administration officials have said that Obama would retain the authority to order U.S. airstrikes against Syria. Obama himself said that any agreement to remove Syria's chemical weapons stockpile "needs to be verifiable and enforceable."
U.N. inspectors prepared to turn in their own poison gas report this weekend. Two U.N. diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because the time was not yet final, said Friday night that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was expected to brief the Security Council about the report on Monday morning.
Ban said Friday that he expected "an overwhelming report" that chemical weapons were indeed used on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21. Obama called for a limited military strike against Assad's forces in response, then deferred seeking congressional approval to consider the Russian proposal.
Kerry and Lavrov also met Friday with U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about the potential for a new peace conference in the Swiss city. Kerry said he, Lavrov and Brahimi agreed to meet around Sept. 28 on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York.
"We are committed to try to work together, beginning with this initiative on the chemical weapons, in hopes that those efforts could pay off and bring peace and stability to a war-torn part of the world," Kerry said.
Kerry, flanked by Lavrov and Brahimi, told reporters after an hour-long meeting that the chances for a second peace conference in Geneva will require success first with the chemical weapons talks.
Kerry planned to travel to Jerusalem Sunday to discuss the situation in Syria with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He will then go to Paris to see French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Monday about the Syrian war. In Paris, he will meet separately with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.