SYRIA - A high-ranking Syrian official on Sunday welcomed the U.S.-Russian agreement to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons arsenal, calling it a "victory" for Damascus.
The comments from Minister of National Reconciliation Ali Haidar to a Russian state news agency were the first by a senior Syrian government official on the deal struck a day earlier in Geneva. Under the agreement, Syria will provide an inventory for its chemical weapons program within one week and hand over all of the components of its program by mid-2014.
"We welcome these agreements," Haidar was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti agency. "On the one hand they will help Syrians get out of the crisis, and on the other hand, they averted a war against Syria by removing the pretext for those who wanted to unleash one."
There has been no official statement from the Syrian government, and it was not clear whether Haidar's comments reflected the thinking of President Bashar Assad.
The deal, hashed out in marathon negotiations between U.S. and Russian diplomats, averts American missile strikes against the Assad regime, although the Obama administration has warned that the use of force remains on the table if Damascus does not comply.
"The threat of force is real and the Assad regime and all those taking part need to understand that President Obama and the United States are committed to achieve this goal," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Sunday in Jerusalam, where he briefed Israeli leaders on the agreement.