JERUSALEM — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry assured Israel publicly on Sunday the deal he reached with Russia's foreign minister on Syria's chemical weapons was capable of removing its deadly arsenal.
Speaking to reporters after briefing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the framework accord reached in Geneva on Saturday, Kerry said it "has the full ability . . . to strip all of the chemical weapons from Syria."
Kerry said Russia had stated that Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime had agreed to give an accounting of its chemical arsenal within a week.
“We cannot have hollow words in the conduct of international affairs, because that affects all other issues, whether Iran or North Korea or others," Kerry said after talks with Netanyahu.
Kerry briefed Netanyahu on what he called "the most far-reaching chemical weapons removal ever," after the Israeli leader said earlier on Sunday that the deal would be judged on whether it achieved the arsenal's "complete destruction.”
Israeli officials had privately expressed dismay about U.S. President Barack Obama's handling of the Syria crisis, fearful that any failure to follow through with threatened military action would encourage Iran to press on with its nuclear work.
"The Syrian regime must be stripped of all its chemical weapons, and that would make our entire region a lot safer," Netanyahu said after his talks with Kerry.
"The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime's patron Iran. Iran must understand the consequences of its continual defiance of the international community by its pursuit towards nuclear weapons," Netanyahu added.
Kerry reiterated that the military option remained should Assad fail to comply. The accord called for Assad to let international inspectors eliminate Syria's entire chemical weapons supply by the middle of 2014.
"The egregious use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against innocent men, women, children, their own citizens, all indiscriminately murdered in the dead of night is unacceptable," Kerry said, referring to an Aug. 21 attack that Washington says killed more than 1,400 people.
"And we have said in no uncertain terms that this should never happen again. This country (Israel) understands the words 'never again' perhaps more than any other," he said, a reference to the Nazi Holocaust in which six million Jews were killed, many of them in gas chambers.
Israel has largely stayed on the sidelines of Syria's civil war, a two-and-a-half-year conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people and pits the Iranian-allied Assad government against rebels who include Islamist militants deeply hostile to the Jewish state.
Earlier on Sunday, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is close to Netanyahu, said the deal had "disadvantages and advantages."
"On the one hand, it lacks the necessary speed (in removing chemical arms from Syria). On the other hand, it is much more comprehensive, as it includes a Syrian commitment to dismantle the manufacturing facilities and to never again produce (chemical weapons)," Steinitz told Army Radio.
Also on Army Radio, Avigdor Lieberman, chairman of parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said intelligence that Israel has gathered on neighboring Syria could help verify Assad's compliance with the accord.
"We will understand Assad's intentions only in a week when he is meant to hand over a full list of all the chemical weapons at his disposal, and I think Israel has a not bad idea of what chemical weapons he has," Lieberman said.
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