The diplomatic breakthrough in Geneva today is simply stunning. The “framework agreement for elimination of Syrian chemical weapons” reached by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivers, in writing at least, just about everything President Barack Obama demanded when he threatened to attack the Assad regime earlier this month.
The agreement calls on Syria to declare in detail its entire chemical arsenal within weeks and destroy it – along with everything involved in making it – within five or six months. It outlines the inspection process, and if the Assad regime tries to stall or evade the agreement, Russia, far from protecting it, agrees to cooperate on U.N. resolutions that allow the use of force to compel compliance.
“Providing this effort is fully implemented,” Kerry declared, “it can end the threat that these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but to their neighbors, [and] to the region.”
Indeed. One of the big winners is Israel. The Assad regime had built its undeclared chemical arsenal largely as a counterbalance to the Israelis’ undeclared nuclear arsenal. Now Assad not only is declaring publicly what he’s got, he’s supposed to trash it all. Syria was no match for Israel militarily in any case, but now, in the midst of a prolonged civil war, and giving up its weapons of mass destruction, it’s virtually defenseless in any conventional sense.
Another winner, paradoxically, is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – at least in the short term. Until his regime has finished complying with the terms laid down in the U.S.-Russian accord, Washington has no interest in seeing him removed from power.
For precisely that reason, the Syrian opposition, which is desperate for more and better U.S. support, is furious. “What about the murderer Bashar who gave the order? Should we forget him?” said Gen. Salim Idriss, commander of several loose-knit rebel forces, speaking in Istanbul. “We feel let down by the international community. We don’t have any hope.
In fact, if Assad were allowed to continue the use of chemical weapons, neither the rebels nor any civilians in contested areas would have much hope. With sarin gas and mustard gas he could simply wipe them out or drive them out.
To be sure, Syria has not yet signed on to the U.S.-Russian accord, and Lavrov said the agreement does not yet have the effect of law. But Assad appears to have little room to maneuver. Moscow appears to have shared and compared intelligence it has about his arsenal. The agreement states flatly that the United States and Russia agree about the “amount and type of chemical weapons involved.” Since the Russians are on the ground as Assad’s main arms suppliers, and the United States has the benefit of Israeli as well as its own intelligence on these matters, if the data match up, they’re likely to be pretty accurate.
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