Syria has until mid-2014 to be rid of chemical weapons

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While many of us Stateside were watching college football, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov announced they had reached a deal on dismantling Syria’s chemical weapon arsenal. The details were released by the U.S. State Department.

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Logo of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the group tasked with inspecting Syrian chemical weapons sites. (Credit: OPCW)

The highlights are the deadlines (which sound soft to me):

  • within a week: “submit … 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”
  • by November: “completion of initial [Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] on-site inspections”
  • by November: “destruction of production and mixing/filling equipment”
  • in first half of 2014: “complete elimination of all chemical weapons material and equipment”

It looks like Syria’s Bashar Assad has bought quite a bit of time. Also, let us remember that this disarmament is only about chemical weapons. Assad can continue to fight the insurgency with bullets and “conventional” bombs.

For now, it seems a Middle East war has been averted. Still, the episode has had consequences.

Foreign Policy asks the excellent question, “Did the World Just Legitimize the Assad Regime It Spent Years Discrediting?” The piece quotes an unnamed Arab diplomat:

“We have been delegitimizing the Syrian regime and suddenly by virtue of this initiative the Assad regime is now a partner of the international community. Of course it’s a good thing that these weapons and stockpiles be kept under safe control, but are we not inadvertently undoing what we have been trying to do for two years?”

Also, the episode, some analysts say, has turned Russia into a “Middle East powerhouse.” An excerpt from this opinion piece says:

It’s not only in Syria that Russia has capitalized on anger toward the United States. In Egypt, where the military-backed government has accused Washington of sympathy toward the Muslim Brotherhood, some protesters have hailed Putin as a potential diplomatic counterbalance to the United States. Pro-military demonstrators have even drawn parallels between the former KGB operative and their own strongman: During a July protest in the city of Alexandria, pro-military demonstrators unveiled a large poster of the Russian president wearing a naval uniform beside that of army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, bearing the inscription “Bye bye, America.”

For Israel, it seems to be a mixed bag. The removal of the threat of a chemical attack would ease many an Israeli.

“If the (Russian) offer only includes supervision of chemical weapons, then we have done very little, but if it also includes real moves to dismantle chemical weapons, that is no small thing,” Giora Eiland, a former Israeli national security adviser, told Reuters. “For us it is a good result, without our having had to do anything.”

Jerusalem Post reporter Herb Keinon says the deal is more bad than good for Israel. While “a very deadly weapon will be removed from Israel’s doorstep … Assad remains at the helm. This is bad not only because a man who murdered so many will remain standing to kill another day, but also because Iran will retain a vital strategic ally. And, of course, Iran is the much more significant game right now for Israel than even Syria.”

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