Obama says U.N. deal on Syria 'a potentially huge victory'

WASHINGTON Fri Sep 27, 2013 1:55pm EDT

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Maryland September 26, 2013. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks about the Affordable Care Act at Prince George's Community College in Largo, Maryland September 26, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Friday a U.N. Security Council draft resolution brokered by the United States and Russia that would demand Syria give up its chemical arms was "a potentially huge victory for the international community."

The resolution, agreed on Thursday, would not threaten military force if Syria fails to comply.

A vote on the resolution is expected later on Friday.

Obama said the agreement was something the United States had long sought and likely would not have been achieved without a credible threat of U.S. force after the chemical weapons attack on a suburb of Damascus on August 21 that killed scores of Syrian civilians, including children.

"The fact that we now have a framework ... that would be legally binding, that would be verifiable and enforceable, where there would be consequences for Syria's failure to meet what has been set forth in this resolution, I think is a potentially huge victory for the international community," Obama said at the White House, where he was meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Obama said the resolution would deter future use of chemical weapons in Syria and go beyond what military action could have achieved by removing one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world.

He said the United States was hopeful about what could be accomplished as a result of the U.N. resolution, but that a lot of work was still required and skepticism was well placed.

"I think rightly, people have been concerned about whether Syria will follow through on the commitments that have been laid forth, and I think there are legitimate concerns as to how technically we are going to be getting those chemical weapons out while there is still fighting going on," Obama said.

"Nevertheless, this represents potentially a significant step forward."

The agreement emerged from intense negotiations at the United Nations with Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.

A major sticking point was Russia's opposition to writing the resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, which covers the council's authority to enforce its decisions with measures that include sanctions or military force.

The draft resolution makes the measure legally binding but provides no means for automatic enforcement if Syria fails to comply.

(Editing by Christopher Wilson)