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Syrian crisis

Loay Mudhoon / bk
September 13, 2013

Russia's initiative to put the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal under international control will only succeed if Moscow joins the alliance threatening the Assad regime with military action, says DW's Loay Mudhoon.


There's no question: Russia's surprising offer to bring Bashar al-Assad's regime to uncover its arsenal of chemical weapons and put them under international control has re-shuffled the cards in the Syrian crisis. After the Syrian dictator gratefully accepted the protection this new diplomatic drive provided, a US military strike against his army now seems to have been averted. At least for now.

Loay Mudhoon, Photo: Per Hendriksen / DW
Loay MudhoonImage: DW

But this coup has not only won time for the Assad regime, which was visibly under pressure a week ago - US President Barack Obama seems to be relieved too. He is famously skeptical of military intervention following the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Obama also knows that the majority of Americans are tired of war. That was why he always preferred an internationally agreed reaction to the devastating chemical weapons attack on the suburbs of Damascus on August 21, where more than 1,000 people died a painful death. Obama's other problem was that he was not sure of getting a majority in Congress to support a military strike.

Unrealistic expectations

But the hopes for a diplomatic solution in this highly complex proxy war could well be deceptive. A closer inspection of the Russian and Western positions makes it easy to see that we cannot expect a quick resolution in the negotiations between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, which began in Geneva on Thursday (12.9.2013).

Putin is insisting the United States does not take military action in Syria. He will also not allow any blame to be apportioned to Assad. He has already refused to accept a French draft resolution because it includes punitive measures according to Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter, in the event that Syria does not comply with agreements to destroy all its chemical weapons.

But if Russia is serious about taking on responsibility for peace and security on an international stage, then Putin must move on this central point.

Or to put it another way: Russia's proposal to put Syria's chemical weapons arsenal under international control can only become a solid foundation for a diplomatic breakthrough if Moscow joins the military threat against the Assad regime. But that doesn't look likely at the moment.

Assad is playing for time

Our experiences of the past two years show that Assad cannot be moved to make concessions without a credible military threat. For that reason, the US would be well-advised to demand a binding plan for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, and to keep its military threat in place until that happens.

And finally, at the UN Security Council, Russia should join the insistence that a new resolution expressly authorizes a military strike - should the Assad regime not stick to its agreements.

Loay Mudhoon is the editor of Qantara.de.

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