US Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with Israel’s leaders in Jerusalem Sunday on the deal reached by the US and Russia Saturday aimed at destroying the Assad’s regime chemical stockpile by the middle of next year.
At a joint press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
Kerry insisted that the option for US-led military intervention remained available if the terms of the deal were not honored. “This will only be as efficient as its implementation will be,” Kerry said, referring to the US-Russia deal which calls for Assad to be stripped of all chemical weapons by mid-2014. “And President Obama has made it clear that to accomplish that, the threat of force remains.”
Netanyahu earlier Sunday expressed cautious optimism about the deal, stressing that the proof of its effectiveness would be in deeds not words.
Officials in Jerusalem said late Saturday Israel would of course be delighted to see the regime of President Bashar Assad stripped of chemical weapons, but that Israel is extremely wary of the unfolding diplomatic framework, concerned that Assad is bent on buying time, and that the optimistic timetable set out in Saturday’s agreement will not be adhered to. Kerry will meet a “skeptical” Israeli leadership.
Kerry was to have met with Netanyahu later this week in Rome, but Netanyahu cancelled his planned trip amid the current regional tensions.
The two were also talking Sunday about the US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which resumed in late July. This is Kerry’s first visit to the region since the resumption.
The Palestinians have complained that Israel is not negotiating seriously on all core issues, and focusing overwhelmingly on border concerns. Israeli officials have said that the current instability in the region underlines Israel’s demand to retain a military presence in the Jordan Valley under any accord.
On Saturday, after days of intense negotiations, the United States and Russia reached an agreement on a framework to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014 and impose UN penalties if the Assad government fails to comply.
The deal, announced by Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, includes what Kerry called “a shared assessment” of the weapons stockpile, and a timetable and measures for Assad to comply.
Kerry said the Syrian regime must submit a full inventory of its stockpile within a week.
The deal calls for all components of the chemical weapons program to be removed from the country or destroyed by mid-2014.