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704 words - September 12, 2013 | © DiploNews, all rights reserved.
The United States and France have been repeating all-week long that they are ready to strike Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's regime on accusations of having used chemical weapons on August 21. Last week ended with the imminence of the use of force, but as DiploNews presumed in DiploWeek 57, Russia has suddenly put forward a proposal which halted – for now – the escalation. After a meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Al-Muallem, Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov announced that the Syrian government agreed with the Russian government's proposal that Syrian stockpiles of chemical weapons be stocklisted, put under international control and finally destroyed.
The Russian initiative came as a relief within the international community that fears alot the unexpected consequences a military strike on Syria will bear. US President Barack Obama said he's "cautiously hopeful" about "current international efforts involving Syria's closest ally, Russia, to remove and ultimately destroy Syria's chemical arsenal." In the meantime, Mr. Obama sent Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his counterpart Mr. Lavrov in Geneva, and said that he will continue his own discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian proposal would be acceptable subject to at least three conditions, said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. Firstly, President Assad must immediately pledge to place his entire chemical weapons arsenal under international control and allow it to be destroyed. Secondly, this operation must be carried out on the basis of a binding Security Council resolution within a short timeframe and with strong consequences if he doesn't uphold his commitments. Thirdly, those responsible for the chemical massacre on August 21 must not go unpunished. The matter must therefore be referred to the International Criminal Court.
By staying firm on its "punish and deter" stance, France provoked an angry response from Russia which denounced such conditions as "unacceptable." And the chief of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) Selim Idriss accused Syria and Russia of deceit in chemical plan, which didn't help matters. "The regime wants to buy time to save itself," Mr. Idriss told Qatari TV news channel Al-Jazeera. However the Syrian opposition's intransigence will likely hit a wall while the United Nations, and a majority of countries sympathetic to their cause like Germany, consider the Russian initiative might constitute an "exit from nightmare in Syria," and a chance of reaching a non-military solution. "While there are grounds for scepticism, the movement we have seen in the past few hours has increased the chance of a political solution in Syria," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said. "It is very important to take the momentum of the Russian proposal on Syria and to use it, EU High Representative Catherine Ashton stressed.
Little doubt remains that chemical weapons were used in Syria, but the US-Russia disagreement over who was behind the attacks remains unsolved. According to President Putin, "there is every reason to believe (the chemical weapons were) used not by the Syrian army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons, who would be siding with the fundamentalists," Worse, those same fundamentalists would be preparing an attack against Israel whose President Shimon Peres stressed that nothing would never be the same for Syria, whatever happens next. "Syria will not go back to being what it was, the war and terror have divided that country into parts, into a number of countries," the Israeli leader said. "Diplomacy is always preferable to war" for all that and diplomacy may succeed if "Syria is honest" and "takes real steps," Mr. Peres added.
According to DiploNews, the Obama administration might be seeking an acceptable solution by advancing the Russian initiative while stepping up the pressure on the Syrian government simultaneously. Though still unlikely, the best exit strategy for President Obama could be that this talk-plus-pressure strategy leads to a Geneva 2 conference. In the end, the United States and Russia could boast about having put the whole thing back on the track toward peace. Beyond appearances, most of the analysts will agree, however, that President Putin won. "Use of force outside UNSC would constitute an act of aggression," Mr. Putin warned, just in case.
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