Syria's use of chemical weapons a criminal act: Obama
US President Barack Obama has said that the use of chemical arms by Syria is a "criminal act" and as such it becomes important for the international community to respond so as to deter repeated use of such weapons and to move them out of the war-torn country.
Obama made his remarks yesterday after his bilateral meeting with Kuwaiti ruler Amir Al-Sabah, during which Syria was on top of their agenda.
"Our two countries are in agreement that the use of chemical weapons that we saw in Syria was a criminal act, and that it is absolutely important for the international community to respond in not only deterring repeated use of chemical weapons, but hopefully getting those chemical weapons outside of Syria," he said.
Obama hoped that the negotiations currently taking place between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva bear fruit.
"But I repeated what I've said publicly, which is that any agreement needs to be verifiable and enforceable. We agreed that, ultimately, what's needed for the underlying conflict is a political settlement that allows ordinary Syrians to get back to their homes, to rebuild, and to relieve the enormous suffering that's taking place," he said.
Meanwhile, a senior administration official said no one is contemplating a process where they would trust the Syrians to destroy the weapons.
"That's why they'd have to transfer custody to the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) or an international mechanism. They also may leave the country too as part of that process.
"I think one of the technical issues is, do you remove the weapons from Syria first and then destroy them or do you destroy them there? So in other words, we won't be trusting Assad to implement this agreement.
"There would have to be a process where essentially he's seceding control of the weapons," the official told journalists.
"What we have is the Syrian government doing something it had previously resisted doing, which is even declaring the existence of its chemical weapons stockpiles and then signalling an intent to come into the chemical weapons convention, and the Russian government doing something it had previously been unwilling to do, which is coming forward with this proposal that would make Assad get rid of his chemical weapons," the official said.
"That's ultimately our objective here. So, if we can achieve our objective through diplomacy, that's a preferable outcome than taking military action just for the sake of taking military action. The outcome will be what the ultimate test is in terms of the success of our policy," the official said.
The official said that the chemical weapons issue is distinct from the rest of the US approach to Syria.
"This is an issue that we look at independently because of the fact that it's a much greater threat inside of Syria, but it's also a threat to the international prohibition against chemical weapons and ultimately our own national security. This does not affect in any way the rest of our Syria policy," he said.
"It is not linked to the rest of our Syria policy in the sense that we're not going to change our position on Geneva II. On support for the opposition. On the notion that Assad has to leave power as a part of Geneva II because of what's happening on the chemical weapons issue," the official said.
In another related development, the State Department said Kerry would travel to Jerusalem and France after his Geneva meetings with the Russians.
"Purpose of the visit it to have an in-depth discussion with the Prime Minister on the final status negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, following on the Secretary's meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in London last Monday. They will also focus on developments in Syria," State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.