Kerry Warns Syria: ‘Threat of Force Is Real’

YERUSHALAYIM (AP) -

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry sent a strong warning to Syria Sunday, saying that “the threat of force is real” if it does not carry out an internationally brokered agreement to hand over its chemical weapons.

Kerry issued the warning during a stop in Jerusalem, where he briefed jittery Israeli leaders on the new U.S.-Russian plan to rid neighboring Syria of its chemical weapons by the middle of next year. In comments aimed at his hosts, Kerry said the deal also served as a “marker” for the international community as it deals with Iran’s suspect nuclear program.

In a deal meant to avert a threatened U.S. military strike, U.S. and Russian officials reached an ambitious agreement over the weekend calling for an inventory of Syria’s chemical weapons within one week. All components of Syria’s chemical-weapons program are to be removed from the country or destroyed by mid-2014.

The deal was greeted with cautious optimism in Israel, where leaders expressed satisfaction that Syria, a bitter enemy, could be stripped of dangerous weapons, but also with pessimism about whether Syrian President Bashar Assad will comply.

Israel has repeatedly voiced concern that Assad, locked in a two-year-old civil war, may fire his chemical weapons at Israel in a bout of desperation or that the weapons could fall into the hands of Hizbullah or other terrorist groups.

The Israelis also fear that a tepid international response to Syria could encourage Iran to press forward with what is widely believed to be a nuclear weapons program.