Syria has pledged to eliminate its chemical weapon stockpile under international supervision — a move that is likely to encourage diplomacy, which has now been backed by the United States following Russia’s bold intervention to end the crisis.
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem had declared on Tuesday that his country was ready to take all steps leading to elimination of its chemical weapons arsenal — an initiative that would culminate in Damascus signing the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
“We will open our storage sites, and cease production,” Mr. Muallem told Lebanon’s al-Maydeen TV. “We are ready to open these facilities to Russia, other countries and the United Nations. We intend to give up chemical weapons altogether.”
Syria’s positive affirmation of compliance is likely to impart fresh impetus to the use of diplomacy rather than force. In a major public address on Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama announced his agreement to explore international diplomacy instead of military intervention; an assertion that marked a dramatic turnaround in position following Russia’s call to seek an end to Syrian chemical weapons through talks.
Analysts point out that Moscow’s move could eventually bail Mr. Obama out of a sticky predicament. Without an exit route, like the one provided by Russia, Mr. Obama could have found himself confronting a politically embarrassing defeat in Congress — in no mood endorse his call for limited strikes against Syria. He has now urged Congress to defer its vote.
Simultaneously, he has agreed to address the Syrian crisis in the U.N. Security Council — a proposition that he had been firmly rejecting since August 21, when chemical weapons were allegedly used to kill hundreds of people in the outskirts of Damascus.
Gauging the rapidly evolving situation, including the presidential climbdown, U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel observed during a testimony before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that it would now not be possible to launch military strikes against Syria before mid-October.
As the terrain shifted towards dialogue, it became evident that a lot of groundwork would be required before convergence between the western powers and Russia, backed by China, can be achieved.
In New York, the Russians want the Security Council to issue a presidential statement, which precludes any reference to the use of force, to seek Syrian compliance to complete disarmament.
Moscow’s proposal entrusts the United Nations Secretary-General and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) — the organisation that oversees the Chemical Weapons Convention — to implement a plan that would establish international control over Syria’s arsenal.
On its part, France has insisted that demands from Syria should be packaged within chapter VII provisions, implying that non-compliance by Damascus could be met with a military response.
Critics of the Russian initiative are also pointing to the practical difficulties of ridding Syria of chemical weapons, which are apparently spread across multiple locations, including territories that are under the opposition’s control.
Observers say enforcement of a comprehensive ceasefire is likely to become a core element of a deal to verifiably destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.
Aware that a rocky road still lay ahead, Mr. Obama is sending his Secretary of State John Kerry to Geneva for crucial talks with the latter’s Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. The lines of communication are also being kept open between Mr. Obama and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.
In tune with the fast-paced developments, the U.S. Congress is examining alternative resolutions, which could include the deployment of force only if the Syrian government fails to place its chemical weapons under U.N. control.