Hans Blix writes: For some weeks the world’s attention has turned from the brutal civil war that continues to rage over much of Syria, and focused instead on the horrible large-scale use of chemical weapons near Damascus – which has now been verified in a report by UN appointed impartial inspectors. After several bewildering political turns, the framework agreed in Geneva by the foreign ministers of the US and Russia may be viable and meet the interest of their own and many other governments – even though it is bitterly denounced by Syrian rebels, who had hoped for strong US military action, and even though there is no consensus on the question of guilt.
Rather than a fast-track, global-police action with the US ignoring the UN security council – and charter – to punish Syria with limited military strikes, we now see Damascus brought on a fast-track to the chemical weapons convention and an accelerated process for those weapons to be declared (within a week), verified by international inspectors and removed from or destroyed in Syria (within the first half of 2014). The executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the security council are, quite properly, to run the process and supervise it.
This “framework” takes the US off a military course that appeared to go against American public opinion, might have been rejected in Congress, and could have led to loss of many lives in Syria and dragged Washington into further armed conflict. Many governments welcomed that, under the framework, the security council is no longer ignored but made the central forum for action and supervision. For Russia, as a permanent council member with a veto, this meant preserved influence. Through the framework, Russia also protected the Syrian government from the loss of military assets that would have been destroyed in punitive strikes. While Moscow reaped praise for preventing armed action, the only price it paid was the destruction of a chemical arsenal that the Syrian government could hardly have used a second time.
What now looks almost like an international “due process” will undoubtedly raise questions. It seems unlikely the Syrian government will seek to obstruct the process and raise a need for enforcement measures, but troublesome practical and political problems will inevitably arise. The reset that has already taken place between the US and Russia in Geneva will be needed to solve such problems. Even more co-operation will be needed between the two, and within the security council, to tackle the much greater challenge of achieving a ceasefire in Syria and a conference to bring about a transitional government.
It is welcome that the US now seems fully aware that Iran is central to this challenge, and that dialogue with Tehran – and not only threats – are needed. In comments made before the final deal was struck, President Obama made clear that Iran will have a place at the conference about peace in Syria. He cautioned Iran that its getting closer to a nuclear weapon is a far larger issue to the US than Syrian chemical weapons, and warned Tehran it should not conclude that the readiness to strike against it was gone. However, Obama also signalled that the deal reached in Geneva showed there is a potential to resolve these issues diplomatically. One would hope this potential will soon be explored. It could improve the atmosphere. [Continue reading…]