The New York Times reports: The United States and Russia reached a sweeping agreement on Saturday that called for Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons to be removed or destroyed by the middle of 2014 and indefinitely stalled the prospect of American airstrikes.
However, the joint announcement, on the third day of intensive talks in Geneva, also set the stage for one of the most challenging undertakings in the history of arms control.
“This situation has no precedent,” said Amy E. Smithson, an expert on chemical weapons at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. “They are cramming what would probably be five or six years’ worth of work into a period of several months, and they are undertaking this in an extremely difficult security environment due to the ongoing civil war.”
Although the agreement for the first time explicitly includes the United Nations Security Council in determining possible international action in Syria, Russia has maintained its opposition to any military action.
But George Little, the Pentagon press secretary, emphasized that the possibility of unilateral American military force was still on the table. “We haven’t made any changes to our force posture to this point,” Mr. Little said. “The credible threat of military force has been key to driving diplomatic progress, and it’s important that the Assad regime lives up to its obligations under the framework agreement.”
In Syria, the state news agency, SANA, voiced cautious approval of the Russian and American deal, calling it “a starting point.” But there was no immediate explicit statement about the government’s willingness to implement it as detailed on Saturday.
In any case, the deal represented at least a temporary reprieve for Mr. Assad’s government — a reality that was bitterly seized on by the fractured Syrian rebel forces, most of which have pleaded for American airstrikes. General Salim Idris, the head of the Western-backed rebels’ nominal military command, the Supreme Military Council, denounced the initiative.
“All of this initiative does not interest us. Russia is a partner with the regime in killing the Syrian people,” he told reporters in Istanbul. “ A crime against humanity has been committed, and there is not any mention of accountability.” [Continue reading…]