December 8, 2013
Assad government hails 'victory' in arms deal, troops attack
Syria's government hailed as a "victory" a Russian-brokered deal that has averted US strikes, while President Barack Obama defended a chemical weapons pact that the rebels fear has bolstered their enemy in the civil war.
As President Bashar al-Assad's warplanes and artillery hit rebel suburbs of the capital again today, minister Ali Haidar told Moscow's RIA news agency: "These agreements ... are a victory for Syria, achieved thanks to our Russian friends."
Though not close to Assad, Ali was the first Syrian official to react to Saturday's deal struck in Geneva by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Bridging an angry East-West rift over Syria, they agreed to back a nine-month UN programme to destroy Assad's chemical arsenal.
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 Obama made after poison gas killed hundreds of Syrian civilians on Aug. 21, although he stressed that force remains an option if Assad reneges - and US forces remain in position.
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. Lawmakers feared an open-ended new entanglement in the Middle East and were troubled by the presence of al Qaeda followers among Assad's opponents.
In an interview with ABC television, Obama said criticism of his quick-changing tactics on Syria was about style rather than substance. And while welcoming Putin's willingness to press his "client, the Assad regime" to disarm, he also chided the Kremlin leader for suggesting rebels carried out the gas attack.
Defending his changes of tack on Syria, 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."