In the past month, three presidents, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin and Hassan Rouhani, have secretly built a package of understandings around the outcry raised by Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
DEBKA Weekly has obtained exclusive access to its high points:
1. Assad gives up chemical arsenal: Syria will halt chemical weapon production forthwith and prepare a list of locations and facilities for Russian and other representatives to inspect, lock down and destroy.
The Syrian government will sign the Convention against the Use of Chemical Weapons and give the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – OPCW – access to oversee compliance.
This accord bans the use and production of chemical weapons and requires all existing arsenals to be destroyed.
The United Nations are usually cited in reference to weapons inspectors in Syria, but it is the experts of OPCW who do most of the work, analyzing samples in their own laboratories at The Hague, Netherlands.
DEBKA Weekly’s sources report two snags in this section of the trilateral accord:
a) The chairman of OPCW is Turkey’s Ahmed Uzumbcu, who knows Syria well from his service as consul general in Aleppo from 1982 to 1984, and is close to Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu, a leading antagonist of US-Russian-Iranian understandings on Syria.
Uzumbcu is well placed to plant hurdles in the path of implementation.
President Obama took care to keep Ankara out of his dealings with Putin and Rouhani.
A task even beyond America’s resources
b) OPCW commands nothing like the large manpower pool and funding resources for undertaking the Herculean task of dismantling an arsenal which Secretary of State John Kerry estimated as running to about “1,000 metric tons of numerous chemical agents, including finished sulfur, mustard, binary components for sarin and VX."
As Kerry informed a House committee Tuesday, Sept. 9, "Most of that is in the form of unmixed binary components, probably stored mostly in tanks. But they also possess sarin-filled munitions and other things I can't go into here."
The only country with the resources for this project, say DEBKA Weekly’s experts, is the United States.
Even for America, the scale of the Syrian arsenal is incredibly daunting. It can be usefully compared with the Libyan case.
In 2004, Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi offered to dismantle his nuclear program and hand over his chemical arsenal. In the nine years up until September 2013, the US has managed to destroy no more than 40 percent of Libya’s chemical stockpiles although they were much smaller than Syria’s.
For the task in Syria, dozens of facilities would have to be built from scratch or brought into the country from the US for the destruction of multiple chemical stores and production plants.
This job would take more than a decade to complete.
Furthermore, Assad and Putin would never to agree to the American military personnel needed for the project entering Syria. And, additionally, no one has the slightest notion of where to find the billions of dollars to fund an operation on this scale, complexity and longevity.
US agrees to stop arming rebels, Russia boosts military aid to Assad
During the years of implementation, the Syrian ruler would have ample opportunity for playing hide and seek with the international monitors, keeping poison gas stores hidden and surreptitiously passing quantities into the hands of its ally, Hizballah. The Lebanese organization would not be bound by Syria’s signature on the chemical weapons convention.
2. US commitment to stop arming rebels. President Putin promised Tehran that he would pin Obama to the wall to get him to halt arms shipments to Syrian rebels in lieu of Assad’s consent to hand over his chemical weapons. US military instructors must also stop training rebel fighters in the lands neighboring on Syria, especially in the CIA training facilities in Turkey and Jordan.
The Iranian-Russian plan is for America to abandon Syrian opposition fighters and leave them dependent on their Persian Gulf backers, led by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
According to the information reaching DEBKA Weekly’s intelligence sources, the Russian president was successful. Obama agreed to desert the Syrian rebel movement to promote his understandings with Russia and Iran.
3. Russia to massively replenish Assad’s arms stores. After making sure the rebels were starved of American military support, Putin informed the US President that Russia would make large-scale consignments of arms to Assad to compensate his army for the loss of their chemical arsenal. The US president objected to this action but let it be known that he would not utter a word when the Russian arms shipments began to reach Syria.
Russian veto still on offer to Assad
DEBKA Weekly’s military sources report that the Syrian ruler’s shopping list is already on Putin’s Kremlin desk. It includes a large number of Aero L-29 military jet trainer aircraft (Nato codenamed Maya); Delfin-Dolphin strike aircraft for attacks on small guerrilla units in built-up areas; the Russian 8×8 BTR-909 wheeled armored personnel carrier; and large quantities of BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles, a kind of light tank adapted to combat in urban areas.
Assad is also demanding enough ammunition to keep his Russian weapons systems supplied without having to keep on demanding urgent replenishments for every emergency.
On Sept. 7, Moscow turned on the tap for the new arms deliveries to keep the Syrian ruler on track of Putin’s plan for the handover of his chemical weapons. .
4. Moscow will block any binding UN motion for Syria
President Putin gave Assad and Rouhani his word that Moscow would block any UN Security Council resolution, such as the French motion, which bound Syria to compliance with its commitment to pass its chemical arsenal to international control on pain of military force or punitive action.
Nonetheless, Obama was upbeat when he said in his address to the American nation Tuesday, Sept. 10 that “diplomacy suddenly holds the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons in Syria without the use of force.
All the same, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that while giving “the Russian proposal” a chance, US forces would remain in position opposite Syria in case it became necessary to revert to the military option against Syria.
Putin grabs the driving seat from Washington
The next day, Putin was busy with showing who was in charge.
He went over the US president’s head, to push his agenda against US force for Syria by an article which The New York Times ran on Sept. 12. Notwithstanding Obama’s suspension of military action, Putin threatened, “A US strike could unleash a new wave of terrorism” and maintained that “millions around the world increasingly see America… as relying solely on brute force.”
Putin ran his anti-war article shortly after a Kremlin source revealed his decision to send Tehran five advanced S-300VM surface-to-air missiles, an earlier model than the new S-300 PMU which Iran had ordered, for taking down aircraft or guided missiles.
This Moscow later denied.
By then, the Russian president was on his way to a meeting Friday, Sept. 13, with Rouhani
who was using Tehran’s observer status in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) to make his debut appearance at its Bishbek summit as Iranian president.
Since Washington made no response to Putin’s moves, he took them a stage further and bluntly confronted America with Russia’s own military options.
Wednesday, a special session of Russia’s lower house of parliament, summoned to debate a resolution on Syria, heard lawmakers call on their government to expand its arms sales to Iran and revise the terms of US military transit to Afghanistan – if Washington launched a military strike on Syria.
Alexei Pushkov, the Kremlin appointee chairing the foreign affairs committee, said such actions now would be premature as Russia and the US are working to find a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis, but warned that if “the party of war” prevails in Washington, Russia should consider those moves.
“If the US takes the path of exacerbating the situation and forgoing diplomacy for the sake of a military scenario, such measures would seem absolutely justified to me,” Pushkov said.
DEBKA Weekly’s Moscow sources note that Putin is demonstratively running circles around his US partner. He wants to be sure that no one doubts who is calling the shots in the US-Russian-Iranian diplomatic initiative and that Obama understands that failing to match steps with those of the Russian leader will get him into trouble.