US officials want a quick signal from the Russians that Syria is really willing to give up its chemical weapons. But there's a chance everyone's just kicking the can down the road.
That is, how much time is the Obama administration willing to give the Russian-led effort to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons before the US starts rattling the sabers again?
Mr. Obama didn’t mention a timeline or benchmarks for diplomatic success in his speech Tuesday. The next day, White House spokesman Jay Carney also kept it vague when asked over and over about a timeline.
“I expect that this will take some time,” Mr. Carney said of the Russian initiative, later acknowledging that he was stating the obvious. “But we also are not interested in delaying tactics. And we believe it's very important to hold [Syrian President Bashar] Assad accountable."
The Obama administration says, with near-certitude, that it was the Assad regime that used chemical weapons Aug. 21, killing more than 1,400 people outside Damascus, including some 400 children. Obama sought congressional authorization to launch limited airstrikes on key Syrian military positions, but the Senate has shelved its original resolution (though work is now under way on a revised version).
Syria says it welcomes the disarmament proposal by its ally Russia. On Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry meets with his Russian counterpart in Geneva to discuss the logistics of placing Syria’s large chemical arsenal under international control and ultimately destroying it.
But plenty of foreign affairs analysts are skeptical that President Assad will ever fully give up his chemical arsenal, for both political and logistical reasons – particularly amid a civil war. Secretary Kerry himself dismissed the notion of quick progress toward Syrian chemical disarmament, when he originally floated the idea Monday in an off-hand way.