Obama 'outplayed' by Putin over Syria
US PRESIDENT Barack Obama was forced to defend himself against charges of weakness after agreeing a chemical weapons deal with Russia that appears to allow Syria's president Bashar al-Assad to stay in power for at least another year.
Mr Obama (pictured) was accused of being "indecisive" and allowing himself to be outmanoeuvred by Russia and Iran, Assad's strongest backers, over the deal. It gives Assad until the middle of next year to hand over his chemical weapons stocks.
The Assad regime was quick to claim the agreement as a "victory", but Mr Obama said the threat of military action was still on the table.
He also said the US was no longer in a "cold war" with Russia and he welcomed President Vladimir Putin's "involvement" in Syria.
Until now, US officials have presented Russian involvement in a negative light, highlighting Moscow's repeated use of the veto to prevent anti-Assad resolutions passing the UN security council. Under Saturday's deal, Assad has a week to list all his chemical weapons, delivery systems and storage facilities, and until November to allow full UN inspection. The first date is much sooner than the 30 days expected.
The process of destroying the weapons, either inside Syria or elsewhere, is seen as continuing until the middle of next year, a date by which Western governments had suggested they expected to see Mr Assad out of office. He himself has said there will be elections next year.
The opposition, previously buoyed by the hope that the deaths of hundreds of civilians in a chemical weapons attack in Damascus last month would finally lead to Western intervention, reacted angrily to what they said was a betrayal.
General Selim Idriss, notional commander of the Free Syrian Army's high command, said he would cooperate with the inspectors but not allow a ceasefire. "Are we Syrians supposed to wait until mid-2014, to continue being killed every day and to accept it just because the chemical arms will be destroyed in 2014?" he said.
The opposition's political leadership in exile, the Syrian National Coalition, called for the international community to ban air and missile strikes, a reflection of the most common complaint of rebels and activists that the previous 100,000 deaths in the war were being overlooked.
Mr Obama's critics in the US said he had been "outplayed" by Mr Putin. "This is a Russian plan for Russian interests. And we should be very, very concerned," Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said. "We've given up every ounce of our leverage." (© Daily Telegraph, London)