Syria Plan’s Feasibility to Face Scrutiny in U.S.-Russia Meeting

Global Security Newswire Staff
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Global Security Newswire Staff
Sept. 11, 2013, 9:02 a.m.

Rus­sia’s plan to place the Syr­i­an chem­ic­al ar­sen­al un­der out­side mon­it­or­ing and even­tu­al elim­in­a­tion will be the fo­cus of a Thursday meet­ing in Switzer­land between U.S. Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry and Sergei Lav­rov, his Rus­si­an equi­val­ent, a high-level State De­part­ment in­sider told the Wash­ing­ton Post.

En­sur­ing that Mo­scow’s blue­print would cov­er all of the coun­try’s chem­ic­al-war­fare stocks in a con­firm­able mat­ter would be among Kerry’s cent­ral ob­ject­ives in the planned Geneva ex­change with Lav­rov, who is the Rus­si­an for­eign min­is­ter, the source said.

Rus­sia’s pro­pos­al ac­tu­ally is based on an idea that Obama raised with Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin in a meet­ing more than a year ago, based on the no­tion­al concept of some­how se­cur­ing all of Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al stocks, the New York Times re­por­ted late on Tues­day.

Kerry was the first to pub­licly raise the pro­pos­al early this week in what seemed like a cas­u­al re­mark, fol­low­ing a private one-on-one about the mat­ter between Obama and Putin last Fri­day. The sec­ret­ary of State has been skep­tic­al about Syr­ia’s pos­sible chem­ic­al dis­arm­a­ment each time the sub­ject arose in the course of nine tele­phone con­ver­sa­tions he had with Lav­rov since the al­leged Syr­i­an re­gime chem­ic­al strike last month, ac­cord­ing to the Times.

U.S. policy-makers re­portedly are wary about the feas­ib­il­ity of a po­ten­tial ef­fort to cor­ral and dis­pose of the arms in the midst of Syr­ia’s civil war, now in its third year.

“We want to make sure this isn’t simply a rab­bit hole, but rather a path­way to achiev­ing our ob­ject­ive,” said a seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial quoted by the Times on con­di­tion of an­onym­ity. The de­tailed Rus­si­an pro­pos­al and Syr­i­an ac­cept­ance “sug­gests this really could be a suc­cess­ful course of ac­tion, but we still have to test it,” the of­fi­cial said.

Kerry also plans to stress that Wash­ing­ton and its al­lies want a po­ten­tial chem­ic­al-dis­arm­a­ment plan to be flex­ible enough to re­act to any mis­steps by Dam­as­cus, the Post re­por­ted, cit­ing an uniden­ti­fied State De­part­ment source.

“We’re wait­ing for that pro­pos­al,” the seni­or ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said, “but we’re not wait­ing long. We will take a hard look at it, but it has to be swift, it has to be real, and it has to be veri­fi­able. . . . If the U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil seeks to be the vehicle to make it hap­pen, well, then, it can’t be a de­bat­ing so­ci­ety.”

Mo­scow on Tues­day ruled out a French-draf­ted U.N. meas­ure that would al­low for an armed re­sponse to non­com­pli­ance by Dam­as­cus. For a dis­arm­a­ment deal to work, Wash­ing­ton and oth­er gov­ern­ments must “tell us they’re giv­ing up their plan to use force against Syr­ia,” Putin said.

Rus­sia might op­pose pas­sage of any Se­cur­ity Coun­cil meas­ure on the mat­ter in fa­vor of a state­ment by the body’s cur­rent head, the Post said, cit­ing re­marks re­leased by the Rus­si­an For­eign Min­istry.

In a Tues­day even­ing White House ad­dress, Pres­id­ent Obama said he was en­cour­aged the Rus­si­an dis­arm­a­ment pro­pos­al, which could call for Syr­ia to ac­cede to an in­ter­na­tion­al chem­ic­al-weapons ban. He at­trib­uted the new de­vel­op­ment, in part, to a “cred­ible threat of U.S. mil­it­ary ac­tion” in re­sponse to last month’s re­por­ted nerve gas strike, which Wash­ing­ton be­lieves to have killed more than 1,400 people on the out­skirts of Dam­as­cus.

“It’s too early to tell wheth­er this of­fer will suc­ceed, and any agree­ment must veri­fy that [Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar As­sad’s] re­gime keeps its com­mit­ments,” Obama said. “But this ini­ti­at­ive has the po­ten­tial to re­move the threat of chem­ic­al weapons without the use of force, par­tic­u­larly be­cause Rus­sia is one of As­sad’s strongest al­lies.”

The pres­id­ent said he “asked the lead­ers of Con­gress to post­pone a vote to au­thor­ize the use of force while we pur­sue this dip­lo­mat­ic path.”

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