Syria weapons deal: Could it really work?(Read article summary)
Syria weapons deal forwarded by Russia has made significant headway in terms of international geopolitics. Some commentators saw it as a win-win, although others warned it's a trap.
Will Syria really hand over its chemical weapons to Russia? Thatâ€™s a crucial question facing Washington as Russiaâ€™s proposal to have the Bashar al-Assad regime do just that continues to make significant headway in terms of international geopolitics.
On Tuesday, Syria fully accepted the proposal. Speaking in Moscow, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his government would agree to what he termed a plan to â€śthwart US aggression,â€ť according to The Associated Press.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov added that Russia and Syria would now work together to produce a detailed plan of action leading to international control and destruction of Syrian chemical weapons stocks.
Meanwhile, France said it would start a resolution process in the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said at a Paris news conference that France â€“ like Russia, a permanent Security Council member â€“ would do this under a section of the UN charter that allows for military enforcement.
This international dance of the foreign ministers occurred after President Obama said on Monday that Russiaâ€™s initial proposal could be â€śpotentially a significant breakthrough.â€ť But he added that he remained skeptical that Syria would actually undertake to give up its chemical weapons, and that the US needed to maintain a threat of possible military action to compel the Assad regime to act.
Some US foreign-policy commentary saw Russiaâ€™s proposal as a win-win: a way for the United States to avoid military strikes, while helping the Syrian people via elimination of Mr. Assadâ€™s chemical weapons threat.
Though there are good reasons to be skeptical of the proposal, if carried through it would have a greater effect on Assadâ€™s arsenal than limited US airstrikes, wrote The New York Times in an editorial.
Plus, â€śthe diplomatic proposal creates at least a pause in the action. It could mean that the United States would not have to go it alone in standing firm against the Syrian regime. And it could open up a broader channel to a political settlement between Mr. Assad and the rebels â€“ the only practical way to end this war,â€ť the Times editorial board wrote.
But others warned the proposal is a trap. Syria has no intention of turning over all its chemical weapons, and Russia does not intend to force it to do so, critics said.
â€śThis is clearly a way to let Obama off the hook politically,â€ť right-leaning columnist Charles Krauthammer said in a Fox News appearance. â€śThe chances of these weapons being eliminated from Syria are less than of the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series this year â€“ and they are now mathematically eliminated.â€ť
Nor is it clear how the Russia proposal would be implemented, wrote Yochi Dreazen on Foreign Policy magazineâ€™s "Cable" blog. Syria has â€śdozensâ€ť of chemical weapons sites and could shuttle chemical agents and precursor stocks among them in a way that US intelligence would find difficult to track.
â€śThat, in turn, would mean that Obama would have to effectively take Assadâ€™s word that heâ€™d turned over all of his weapons â€“ an assurance the president would probably be unlikely to trust,â€ť Mr. Dreazen wrote.
Given their lethality, chemical weapons can be highly dangerous to handle â€“ the more so in the midst of a deadly civil war. Who would undertake that job? How would they be destroyed? That is not an easy process: The US is still not finished with the destruction of its own old chemical weapons stocks, decades after they were withdrawn from service and marked for elimination.