Here’s some good news for a change.
(Reuters) – Syria has handed over information about its chemical arsenal to a U.N.-backed weapons watchdog, meeting the first deadline of an ambitious disarmament operation that averted the threat of Western air strikes.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Saturday it had “received the expected disclosure” from Damascus, 24 hours after saying it had been given a partial document from Syrian authorities.
Which leaves some American and British observers, who were saying yesterday that Assad was stalling and wouldn’t hand over the full list ever, looking like foolish warmongers.
Once the OPCW executive has voted to follow the Lavrov-Kerry plan in a meeting expected early next week, the Security Council is due to give its endorsement of the arrangements – marking a rare consensus after two years of East-West deadlock over Syria.
However, the two powers are divided over how to ensure compliance with the accord. U.S. President Barack Obama has warned that he is still prepared to attack Syria, even without a U.N. mandate, if Assad reneges on the deal.
Russia, which says it is not clear who was behind the August 21 attack and has a veto in the Security Council, opposes attempts by Western powers to write in an explicit and immediate threat of penalties under what are known as Chapter VII powers.
It wants to discuss ways of forcing Syrian compliance only in the event that Damascus fails to cooperate.
But a senior Russian official suggested on Saturday that if there were clear indications that Assad were not committed to handing over chemical weapons, Moscow may stop supporting him.
“I’m talking theoretically and hypothetically, but if we became sure that Assad is cheating, we could change our position,” said Sergei Ivanov, chief of staff for President Vladimir Putin.
Ivanov said it would take two to three months to decide how long it would take to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, a task that the Kerry-Lavrov agreement aims to complete by mid-2014.
It’s almost certain that a general ceasefire that holds at least most of the time will be a precondition for elimination of Assad’s arsenal. The assad regime seem to be agreeing to that ceasefire already, especially given their assessment that the civil war in Syria has reached the point of stalemate some predicted it would reach as long ago as summer of last year, when the rebels seems to be rapidly advancing and many pundits were saying they would win by that Christmas.
The biggest possible fly in the ointment now is getting the bulk of rebel forces to sign on to a ceasefire. They’ve even been fighting amongst themselves this week, so there’s no way all will — the US and its Gulf allies have to pressure those they can to get enough to stop shooting and to seek a long-term political solution.