After three days of intensive talks in Geneva, Russia and the United States have reached an agreement on a timetable for the swift elimination of Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons, with the provision that the non-compliance by Damascus would mean that the United Nations Security Council will steer the future course of action.
The framework agreement envisages that all Syrian chemical weapons will either be removed or destroyed by the middle of 2014.
International inspectors involved in the implementation of the deal must be in Syria by November, said John Kerry at a press conference with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Mr. Kerry said that the inspectors belonging to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the UN and other supporting staff must be provided “with the immediate and unfettered right to inspect any and all sites in Syria”.
The official Syrian news agency SANA is quoting Mr. Lavrov as saying that he hoped that the resolution of the chemical weapons issue in Syria would be "an important step towards establishing a Middle East zone free of weapons of mass destruction"—a move that would also cover the elimination of Israel’s atomic weapon stockpiles. Analysts say that a zone free of mass destruction weapons in West Asia would encourage Syria to cooperate as it had accumulated chemical weapons to deter a nuclear armed Israel.
The disposal of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles will take place under the embedded guidelines of the Chemical Weapons Convention, said Mr. Kerry. A part of Syria’s arsenal would be destroyed inside the country while the rest will be eliminated abroad.
Under the plan, the Syrian government has been given one week to handover the inventory of its chemical weapons arsenal. Mr. Kerry said that the deal covers not only the destruction of weapons but also capabilities to produce and refine chemical arms. He stressed that Syria has to provide “names, types, and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions, and location and form of storage, production and research and development facilities." In turn, Syria will become a member of the OPCW, which outlaws the production and use of these arms.
During their deliberations, Russian and U.S. experts had arrived at a shared estimate of the size of the Syrian arsenal.
Mr. Lavrov said that the Syrian government and the opposition were jointly responsible for the security of inspectors who would hit the ground in the next few weeks.
"Our proposals say that the Syrian authorities bear primary responsibility for [international experts'] security, but not only them but also other Syrian parties, that is, the opposition, will have to be responsible for eliminating threats to the international personnel," said that Russian top diplomat.
He also traced the breakthrough that was achieved in Geneva to the meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart, Barack Obama during the recently concluded meeting of G-20 nations in St. Petersburg. “The goal, which was established in the conversation between our presidents on Friday September 6 during the G20 in Saint Petersburg, has been reached,” said Mr. Lavrov.
Mr. Kerry too acknowledged that the Russian initiative, reciprocated by President Obama, had paved the way to Saturday’s deal. “President Putin, to his credit, despite real disagreement with our policy… reached out and tried to continue the dialogue,” said Mr. Kerry. “I am pleased that President Putin took initiative, and Sergei [Lavrov] took the initiative, and that President [Barack] Obama responded.”
Despite covering considerable common ground, Moscow and Washington, differed significantly on the role that the Security Council would play if the Syrian government failed to strictly abide by the provisions of the agreement. While the Russians were clear that the Syrians cannot be penalised under Chapter VII provisions of the UN charter that allow the use of force, the Americans thought otherwise.
Mr. Kerry said that Chapter VII provisions could be invoked that allow "action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security" in the event other measures fail.
Russia has insisted that it visualises its initiative to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria as a stepping stone to a comprehensive dialogue under the Geneva-2 framework to peacefully end the over two-year old conflict in the Levantine state.
“We stressed with John Kerry that we insist on the peaceful solution, and we held a meeting with [UN Envoy to Syria] Lakhdar Brahimi and we talked about these issues," said Mr. Lavrov. The Russian foreign minister hoped that the opposition would also reciprocate the Syrian government’s decision to participate in the Geneva-2 deliberations, without preconditions.
Meanwhile a senior Russian lawmaker has said that the timelines imposed on the Syrian government under the Moscow-Washington deal to declare its arsenal were unrealistic. “The demand by the United States to hand over chemical weapons to international control in two or three weeks is simply unprofessional," said Alexei Pushkov, the head of the Russian parliament's foreign affairs committee.
"In Syria there are at least 42 storage facilities, some of them in battle zones," he wrote on Twitter.