Syria Keeps Chemicals, Iran Its Nuclear Program – under Russia’s Military Aegis
Every word coming out of Moscow and Damascus takes another bite out of the US-Russian deal for the removal of Syria’s chemical arsenal, which US Secretary of State John Kerry announced with loud fanfare in Geneva on Sept. 14, alongside Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Since then, Moscow stands fast against the UN Security Council resolution that was supposed to underpin the deal, ruling out the draft by the US, UK and France because it would punish the Assad regime for non-compliance with his commitment under the Chemical Weapons Convention to dismantle and hand over all his chemical stocks.
Moscow refuses to hear of any punishment, persisting in declaring the Assad regime innocent of the Aug. 21 chemical attack on eastern Damascus – which triggered the deal – and accusing Syrian rebels of faking the videotaped atrocities.
The UN chemical experts’ report on this event is dismissed by Moscow as biased. So the Russo-Syrian stipulation that the entire chemical dismantling process be funneled through the UN is effectively dead-ended.
Middle East sources claim the Assad regime is smuggling parts of his chemical arsenal to Iraq and Lebanon, or even built a tunnel into Hizballah-controlled regions of Lebanon. These reports are not confirmed by DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources.
But then, along came President Bashar Assad with another towering obstacle.
So where and how will the Syrian chemicals be destroyed?
In an hour-long interview with America’s Fox News TV channel (to be aired Sunday, Sept. 22), President Bashar Assad announced that destroying his chemical stockpile would cost $1bn and take time – “It needs a year, or maybe a little bit more," he said.
Then, with perfect sang froid, he challenged Washington: “If the American administration is ready to pay this money and take the responsibility of bringing toxic materials to the United States, why don't they do it?"
Hours after that comment was previewed on Thursday, Sept. 19, Russian Defense Minister Gen. Sergei Shoigu spoke up to rule out any thought of Syria’s chemical weapons being destroyed on Russian soil – attesting to the perfect harmony prevailing between Damascus and Moscow for killing the Kerry-Lavrov understanding.
Now, no one can tell where and how Syria’s chemical weapons can be destroyed.
As DEBKA Weekly reported at the time, the Kerry-Lavrov deal, far from being an accord as it was touted, was no more than a set of flimsy understandings which have been melting away since they left the Geneva bubble.
The Saudis, Israelis, Turks, Jordanians, Qataris and Emiratis have given up asking what happened to the “credible military option” which the US President and Secretary of State both repeatedly promised would be available to support diplomacy.
They have seen it go up in smoke as the US president Barack Obama turns his attention away from Syria and back to the Iranian nuclear issue, saying he is in a hurry to exploit the “window of opportunity” because it won’t be open for long.
Iran and Syria get to keep their WMD
Indeed, White House officials revealed Thursday that preparations are underway for him to meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the last week of the month at the UN General Assembly in New York.
The US president is clearly satisfied with the ground covered by his secret give-and-take with Tehran (as reported in the first two articles in this issue.)
One of his concessions was US approval for Iran to maintain its nuclear program in full, so long as it does not advance towards assembling operational weapons.
Those concessions embody an important fallacy: Obama has separated the issues of nuclear-powered Iran from chemical-armed Syria, as though they are unrelated, and let Iran off the hook for its massive input to Syria’s chemical and biological weapons, including the technology for building chemical warheads for delivery.
Omitting this linkage has tripped him up: The US president has made the mistake of leaving two rogue Middle East countries with weapons of mass destruction: Iran is allowed to retain its nuclear capabilities, fissile materials and weapons components in a disassembled state, while Syria, judging from Assad’s words, will retain the bulk of his chemical arsenal after the dust settles from headline-grabbing rounds of US-led international diplomacy.
President Obama, for his part, is left boasting about his success in successfully resolving major international crises by diplomacy – without resorting to force.
And America’s foes continue to use the understandings they reached with the Obama administration to arm themselves to the teeth.
Putin uses Assad for leverage in Washington and Tehran
At this point, Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped in. He sent out messages to Washington and Tehran this week demanding a piece of the action, if indeed they were engaged in direct dialogue.
It was made clear to both that the Russian leader was in a position to spoil their game by swinging the Assad lever over their heads. The Syrian ruler clearly appears to be going from strength to strength under Moscow’s military and diplomatic patronage.
Putin had read Washington’s political map, just as Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had.
The ayatollah decided there was no better time than now for extracting from Washington an end to the sanctions crippling his country.
He sees the US president’s bid to eliminate Syrian’s chemical arsenal by means of a serious accord with Moscow running into the sand, with no chance of congressional approval for a US military option.
Obama is defeating his own efforts by taking on Russia, Iran and Syria as a lone rider, after dispensing with the professional support of a competent team of advisers.
He appears to have convinced himself that his “achievement” on the Syria’s chemical weapons issue has armed him for success on the Iranian nuclear track.
The guardians of Iran’s nuclear arsenal are convinced that Obama is heading for an almighty mess thanks to his fallacious certainties.