US-Russia Syria deal: Challenges to controlling Assad’s chemical weapons
The deal worked out between the US and Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons appears to be an important diplomatic breakthrough. But huge diplomatic and technical obstacles remain.
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It follows two weeks of military threats and naval maneuverings (by the US), resistance to putting much pressure on the regime of Bashar al-Assad (Russia), a distracting discussion about American “exceptionalism” (Russian President Vladimir Putin), and a US Congress dragged into the issue by a president trying to navigate around his own “red line” for military action in the face of mounting evidence that the Assad regime killed hundreds of Syrians with poison gas.
In retrospect, the real breakthrough came earlier this week when Syria – pressured by the threat of US military attack – at long last acknowledged that it in fact possesses chemical weapons, although it still blames rebel groups for the Aug. 21 chemical attack that the US says killed 1,429 people, including 426 children.
That acknowledgement by Damascus of its chemical arsenal opened the way for the agreement announced Saturday in Geneva by US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, which lays out a path and a time frame for removing or destroying all of Syria’s chemical weapons and equipment in a year’s time.
The essence of the two-page “Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons” agreed to by Messrs. Kerry and Lavrov is in these three sentences:
“The United States and the Russian Federation expect Syria to submit, within a week, a comprehensive listing, including names, types, and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions, and location and form of storage, production, and research and development facilities.
“We set ambitious goals for the removal and destruction of all categories of CW related materials and equipment with the objective of completing such removal and destruction in the first half of 2014.
“The United States and the Russian Federation have further decided that to achieve accountability for their chemical weapons, the Syrians must provide the OPCW [the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which implements the Chemical Weapons Convention], the UN, and other supporting personnel with the immediate and unfettered right to inspect any and all sites in Syria.”