Hollande says Syria deal must include threat of sanctions

Sunday 15 September 2013 19.45
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Francois Hollande said a resolution could be voted on by the end of the week
Francois Hollande said a resolution could be voted on by the end of the week
Air strikes in Damascus have reportedly increased since the deal was announced
Air strikes in Damascus have reportedly increased since the deal was announced

A UN resolution framing the Russia-US deal on removing Syria's chemical weapons must include the threat of some kind of sanction in the event that Syria does not comply with the accord, French President Francois Hollande said this evening.

Speaking on French prime-time television, Mr Hollande said a resolution could be voted on by the end of the week.

He added that a political and diplomatic solution to the wider Syrian conflict was possible but stressed that the option of military strikes must remain on the table.

Earlier, Syria's government described as a "victory" the Russian-brokered deal that has averted US strikes.

Minister Ali Haidar told Moscow's RIA news agency: "These agreements ... are a victory for Syria, achieved thanks to our Russian friends."

Mr Ali was the first Syrian official to react to the deal struck in Geneva by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday.

They agreed to back a nine-month UN programme to destroy President Bashar al-Assad's chemical arsenal.

Mr Kerry responded to widespread scepticism about the feasibility of the plan by saying in Israel that it had "the full ability" to remove all Syria's chemical weapons.

The agreement has effectively put off the threat of air strikes US President Barack Obama made after poison gas killed hundreds of Syrian civilians on 21 August, although he stressed that force remains an option if Mr Assad reneges - and US forces remain in position.

Mr Obama embraced the disarmament proposal put forward last week by Russian President Vladimir Putin after his plan for US military action hit resistance in Congress.

Politicians feared an open-ended new entanglement in the Middle East and were troubled by the presence of al-Qaeda followers among Mr Assad's opponents.

In an interview with ABC television, Mr Obama said criticism of his quick-changing tactics on Syria was about style rather than substance.

And while welcoming Mr Putin's willingness to press his "client, the Assad regime" to disarm, he also criticised the Kremlin leader for suggesting rebels carried out the gas attack.

Defending his changes of tack on Syria, Mr Obama said: "Folks here in Washington like to grade on style ... Had we rolled out something that was very smooth and disciplined and linear, they would have graded it well - even if it was a disastrous policy."

Mr Ali said Syria welcomed the terms of the US-Russia deal: "They will help Syrians get out of the crisis," he said.

"They have prevented a war against Syria by denying a pretext to those who wanted to unleash it."

He also echoed Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov in saying it might help

Syrians "sit round one table to settle their internal problems".

But rebels, calling the international focus on poison gas a sideshow, have dismissed talk the arms pact might herald peace talks and said Mr Assad has stepped up an offensive with ordinary weaponry now that the threat of US air strikes has receded.

International responses to the accord were also guarded.

Western governments, wary of Mr Assad and familiar with the years frustrated UN weapons inspectors spent in Saddam Hussein's

Iraq, noted the huge technical difficulties in destroying one of the world's biggest chemical arsenals in the midst of civil war.

Mr Assad's key sponsor Iran hailed a US retreat from "extremist behaviour" and welcomed its "rationality".

Israel, worried that US leniency toward Mr Assad may encourage Tehran to develop nuclear arms, said the deal would be judged on results.

China, which like Russia opposes US readiness to use force in other sovereign states, was glad of the renewed role for the

United Nations Security Council, where Beijing too has a veto.

The Syrian government has formally told the United Nations it will adhere to a treaty banning chemical weapons.

The US-Russian framework agreement calls for the UN to enforce the removal of existing stockpiles by the middle of next year.

Air strikes, shelling and infantry attacks on suburbs of Damascus through today backed up statements from Mr Assad's supporters as well as opponents that he is back on the offensive after a lull in which his troops took up defensive positions, expecting US strikes.

Keywords: syria