The framework accord for destroying Syria’s chemical stockpiles, which US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced at a news conference in Geneva Saturday, Sept 14, covers important ground – but leaves even more important issues unaddressed. Its implementation depends on the full cooperation of Bashar Assad and his army for securing the process. He is therefore assured of staying in power and free to wage war unhindered.
This assurance was incorporated in Kerry’s words that the agreement can end the chemical threat to the Syrian people, its neighbors and the region only “if fully implemented.”
The US Secretary listed the six points of that accord:
1. It included a shared assessment of the amounts and types of Syrian regime’s chemical weaopons stockpiles.
debkafile: Earlier reports spoke of a 40-percent disparity between the US and Russian assessments.
2. The Syrian regime has one week until Sept. 21 to submit a comprehensive listing, including names, types and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions and local and foreign storage, production and research and development facilities.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-OPCW, which usually allows 30 days, has agreed to extraordinary procedures to assure the inspection and destruction of all CW stocks.
3. Inspectors must be on the ground by November and the destruction of CW completed by mid-2014.
— On this point, the Russian foreign minister was less specific: Implementation of the agreed framework for the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons must be supported by an “OPCW investigation and a Security Council resolution,” he said, indicating a process of several months.
debkafile: This timeline could stretch out even longer because of the technical difficulties of destroying not just stocks but also manufacturing plant and the facilities for mixing and loading the chemical and biological agents on weapons of delivery.
4. Syria must provide immediate and unfettered access to its CW sites.
5. All CW including stocks inside and outside Syria must be surrendered and destroyed on-site, or if necessary outside the country.
6. Non-compliance would entail the approval of Article 7 of the UN charter which provides for legally binding military or non-military sanctions.
— On this point, too, Lavrov elaborated on Moscow’s position: Violations must be first investigated and confirmed by the OPCW before coming before the UN Security Council for a new resolution mandating “concrete measures.” These may not entail military action, said the Russian foreign minister, “which would be catastrophic.”
Although this word was not mentioned, the accord leaves Moscow free to use its veto once again to bar punitive action against Syria.
In answer to a reporter’s question, Kerry later insisted that the Syrian regime would be held fully accountable for non-compliance with its commitments and the US president retained the power and right to pursue military measures ““commensurate with the [Syrian ruler’s] level of accountability” without UN approval if diplomacy failed to achieve its end.
At the same time, the US secretary allowed that the US and Russians were agreed that Syria would be disarmed of its chemical weapons by diplomatic, not military, means.
Lavrov departed from Kerry’s presentation of their accord on more points:
a) All chemical weapons must be destroyed – not just those in the hands of the Assad regime, but also the Syrian rebels. This laid the groundwork for the Syrian ruler to delay compliance by pointing a finger at Israel.
b) Military action against Syria was ruled out a priori.
c) The Russian-US accord on Syria’s chemical weapons must lead to an international conference to discuss the declaration of the Middle East as a region free of weapons of mass destruction, which is Moscow’s ultimate aim.
This supported Assad’s stipulation which has made his implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention contingent on Israel ratifying the CWC which it signed in 1993, as a step on the road to demanding its nuclear disarmament.
Secretary Kerry made no comments on this point.
d) The US will contribute the funding and other resources for destroying Syria’s chemical weapons, and ask other world powers to participate.
While the US secretary repeatedly praised President Vladimir Putin for initiating Syria’s handover of chemical weapons, Lavrov omitted to reciprocate with commendations of President Barack Obama.
debkafile’s intelligence and military sources see five conspicuous omissions in the way of the “full implementation” of the US-Russian Geneva Agreement:
— The timeline is left open. In none of his speeches and interviews did President Obama set deadlines for the eradication of Syria’s poison chemicals, and the dates set by Kerry Saturday in Geneva are unrealistic.
— Russia and the Syrian ruler were left with the impression that Obama has opted against bringing Assad to account for using chemical weapons in order to keep his war afloat from a position of strength. Indeed the US president appears not to be averse to letting him stay in power.
Neither Kerry nor Lavrov answered the reporter who asked simply: “Why didn’t you first of all try and stop the war?"
— Notwithstanding the impression Kerry tried to convey at the news conference, Obama has clearly discarded the military option as a means of keeping Assad under pressure to comply with his commitment to dismantle his chemical weapons. Even if Washington decided to invoke Article 7 to punish Syria for non-compliance with the accord, the Russian veto still hangs over this step.
— Rescued from an imminent American military threat, the Syria ruler is free to surrender only a small part of his chemical resources and, with the support of his Russian and Iranian allies, hold back sufficient poison gas to save himself if he risks losing the war.
He can continue to ignore the evidence found by US intelligence agencies that the Syrian army was guilty of using chemical weapons against civilians in Homs, Aleppo and Idlib – even before the poison gas massacre of Aug. 21 east of Damascus.
When on April 24, Brig. Gen. Itay Brun, head of Israeli Military Intelligence research stated publicly: "We have recently detected the Syrian army’s repeated use of lethal chemical weapons, apparently sarin,” the White House in Washington was up in arms and made Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon promise that such slips of the tongue would not recur.
Sunday, Sept. 15, Secretary Kerry is expected in Israel for a one-day trip.
He faces two uphill tasks: He must convince Israel that there is no danger of Syrian chemical weapons being passed to the Lebanese Hizballah and so diverted from international control; and that the US-Russian deal on Syria is not a template for letting Tehran off the hook on its nuclear program. That is the foremost of Israel’s concerns.