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U.S., Russia agree on Syria chemical weapons deal

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday  negotiated ongoing problems in Syria, while seated with their senior aides by the swimming pool at a hotel in Geneva.

The United States and Russia agreed on a proposal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, averting the possibility of any immediate U.S. military action against President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the agreement after nearly three days of talks in Geneva.

Meanwhile, the findings of the investigation conducted by the United Nations (UN) into whether chemical weapons were used in an Aug. 21 attack on Damascus suburbs may be released on Monday, U.S. media reported

The UN sent a chemical weapons research team to conduct the investigation in Syria on August 18. However, the U.S. government released a report conducted by its intelligence department, showing that the Assad government used chemical weapons.

Experts say the report conducted by the UN will be more authoritative than that conducted by the U.S. government as it will offer evidence for other countries to make their own judgment.

Charles Duelfer, deputy head of the United Nations weapons inspections team, said that even though the report conducted by the UN might not offer any more additional information, it will be more objective and reliable in the international society.

“The key difference is ‘Is that credible?’ The United States firmly believes in its judgment and its assessments about intelligence, but I’m not sure if that is going to persuade, and clearly it hasn’t persuaded [Russian Foreign Minister] Sergei Lavrov. The Russians have their own sources and bits of information. They’ve made their own assessment, and that is not going to persuade Washington,” said Duelfer.

On September 9, Russia suggested that Syria turn in all their chemical weapons, hoping to urge the U.S. to give up the possibility of interference in Syria. Russia and the U.S. are now holding a meeting in Geneva, trying to work out a proposal for a solution.

“Clearly, that dynamic has changed, but if this proposal falls apart, or if the Syrians start back tracking on it, then whatever report the UN issues as a result of its investigation, I think will again provide that very important justification for any kind of military action or sanctions that follow on in the future,” said Gregory Koblentz, professor of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University.

However, experts say that even without clear answers from the UN’s report, the world will make its own judgments based upon the findings there.

“They will not be making judgments on who authorized or conducted this attack. But it may be that when the evidence is presented to the U.N., readers of that data may draw conclusions from just what is put before them,” said Charles Duelfer.

Koblentz said, “Given the kinds of evidence that the inspectors are probably going to be able to gather and analyze, I think they’ll be able to make a very detailed analysis of what happened, and even if they cannot officially point the finger, I think the only logical conclusion will be that it is the Syrian government responsible, that will be obvious to anyone who’s reading the report.”

“It can address the threat that many worry about, which is that these weapons can fall into the hands of al-Qaeda and others. It could facilitate a reconciliation, it could cause a greater agreement among the outside parties, but peace in Syria is going to be up to the Syrians,” said Duelfer.