After its deft diplomatic manoeuvre that has already coaxed the United States to delay its decision on attacking Syria, Russia — the architect of a widely supported proposal to disarm Syria of chemical weapons — has said that it would soon submit an action plan that would result in an internationally supervised destruction of the Syrian arsenal of poison gas.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who had on Monday seized a narrow diplomatic opening provided by his U.S. counterpart John Kerry for averting military strikes, has said Moscow and Damascus were working jointly to resolve the chemical weapons row. “The plan developed together with the Syrian side will be submitted to all interested parties, including the United States,” said the top Russian diplomat.
On Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama seemed to give a boost to the Russian initiative. The Associated Press, quoting a White House official, reported that Mr. Obama has agreed to discuss Moscow’s proposal in the U.N. Security Council, with the aim of ensuring that the Syrian government surrenders its stocks of chemical weapons.
The President apparently took the decision in consultation with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francois Hollande.
After Russia announced its proposal, the U.S. Senate decided it would delay voting — earlier scheduled for Wednesday — on endorsing Mr. Obama’s decision to attack Syria. In an interview with ABC television, Mr. Obama clarified that the pause button had indeed been pressed in Washington’s drive to strike Syria. “I don’t anticipate that you would see a succession of votes this week or anytime in the immediate future,” said Mr. Obama. “So I think there will be time during the course of the debates here in the United States for the international community, the Russians and the Syrians to work with us and say is there a way to resolve this.” In another interview — part of serial television appearances where the President, known for his eloquence, wanted to make an impression with his side of the story — Mr. Obama acknowledged that “potentially a significant breakthrough” was possible, following the Russian proposal. He pointed out that the establishment of international control over Syria’s chemical weapons would, possibly, contribute to the avoidance of military action, but would not resolve the underlying conflict.
Analysts point out that the Russian proposal could present Mr. Obama, never known as a war enthusiast, with an exit strategy on the messy situation in Syria.
By calling off a strike in the end, the Obama administration would align with the growing anti-war sentiment in the country. A poll by Reuters and AP news agencies, conducted between September 5-9 has revealed that 63 per cent of Americans oppose intervention in Syria — up from 53 per cent in a survey that ended on August 30.
Russia’s initiative has generated vociferous support across the globe, from countries including India and China — Moscow’s partners in the BRICS grouping. Crucially, Iran, a top ally of the Syrian government also endorsed Moscow’s call.
In Moscow, visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said at a press conference that Iran and Russia “have strong evidence that terrorist organisations deployed chemical weapons” in Syria.
Observers say that while Syria has agreed to back the Russian proposal, it is likely to seek fresh security guarantees from Moscow to compensate for the loss of its chemical weapons, which it had apparently maintained to deter a nuclear-armed Israel.
On Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told Interfax news agency that Damascus had agreed to Moscow’s proposal in order to “pull the rug from under the feet of American aggression”.