US, Russia Reach Deal on Syria's Chemical Weapons

Despite agreement, US still holds to possibility of military force

The U.S. and Russia reached a deal on a process to remove or destroy Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014, officials for the two countries announced in Geneva on Saturday.

After a third day of talks, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov outlined the details of the deal, including a condition that Syria must provide a comprehensive list of its chemical weapons stockpiles within a week.

Kerry told reporters, "I have no doubt that the combination of the threat of force and the willingness to pursue diplomacy helped to bring us to this moment."

Echoing Kerry, President Obama said on Saturday, "This this plan emerged only with a credible threat of U.S. military action."

However, as Howard Friel and Noam Chomsky have pointed out, the threats of force against Syria the U.S. has issued are illegal.

Obama also emphasized that the deal did not mean that the possibility of force was off the table. "We will maintain our military posture in the region to keep the pressure on the Assad regime," he said. "If diplomacy fails, the United States and the international community must remain prepared to act."

The "Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons" released by the State Department on Saturday states, in part:

In furtherance of the objective to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons program, the United States and the Russian Federation have reached a shared assessment of the amount and type of chemical weapons involved, and are committed to the immediate international control over chemical weapons and their components in Syria. The United States and the Russian Federation expect Syria to submit, within a week, 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.

We further determined that the most effective control of these weapons may be achieved by removal of the largest amounts of weapons feasible, under OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical] supervision, and their destruction outside of Syria, if possible. We set ambitious goals for the removal and destruction of all categories of CW related materials and equipment with the objective of completing such removal and destruction in the first half of 2014. In addition to chemical weapons, stocks of chemical weapons agents, their precursors, specialized CW equipment, and CW munitions themselves, the elimination process must include the facilities for the development and production of these weapons. The views of both sides in this regard are set forth in Annex B.

The United States and the Russian Federation have further decided that to achieve accountability for their chemical weapons, the Syrians must provide the OPCW, the UN, and other supporting personnel with the immediate and unfettered right to inspect any and all sites in Syria. The extraordinary procedures to be proposed by the United States and the Russian Federation for adoption by the OPCW Executive Council and reinforced by a UN Security Council resolution, as described above, should include a mechanism to ensure this right.

Agence France-Presse reports:

Kerry said that Russia and the United States had agreed on the circumstances under which they might request a Security Council resolution under Chapter 7, which can authorise both military and non-military sanctions.

But Lavrov emphasised that the agreement did not include any automatic use of force if Damascus fails to comply, but rather would refer any Syrian violations to the United Nations for review.

Just how all the weapons would be safely destroyed is unclear, as the New York Timeswrites:

Security will be a major worry for the inspectors who are tasked with implementing the agreement; no precedent exists for inspection, removal and destruction of a large chemical weapons stockpile during a raging civil war. Mr. Lavrov said the agreement would require the cooperation of Syrian rebels and not just the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

In addition, as the Guardian's Peter Beaumont writes, "deeper divisions remain," the U.S. still clings to a possible threat of force, and while the agreement seems to be a step forward, the ongoing human catastrophe appears to have no end in sight:

Even as the two men spoke it was clear, from comments by Barack Obama and other officials that the red lines on all sides remain where they were at the beginning of this week.

The US - in the comments of both Kerry and Obama - still hold up the "possibility" of the threat of force if there is non-compliance from Syria, a step back in its military posture from a week ago. Definitions of full compliance, in any case, are likely to be contested over the coming months. [...]

The wider war, which has claimed over 100,000 lives on both sides and displaced 6.6 million, will continue with conventional weapons. And in the event of non-compliance the same arguments seen over recent months will be revisited. [...]

In other words, for all the apparent progress, the can of the Syrian war has been kicked down the road by the imposition of various conditions, many of which surround the key issues. There may be no more chemical attacks but for the foreseeable future the war and the humanitarian catastrophe will continue.


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