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Americans welcome an agreement engineered by Russia to force Syria to give up weapons of mass destruction without U.S. military intervention.
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
America’s chief diplomat may have been outfoxed by Russia’s foreign minister. But Americans are pleased that diplomacy averted a unilateral U.S. strike against the Syrian Assad regime for a chemical attack last month.
If, as outlined in an agreement between the two Cold War foes, President Bashar Assad’s entire chemical weapons arsenal is destroyed, the imminent threat of their further use will be removed.
And the world crisis President Obama precipitated with his threat to retaliate after Assad had crossed that “red line” might prod the United Nations into a more active role in trying to resolve Syria’s devastating two-year civil war.
A U.N. report released Monday confirmed that sarin gas was used in an Aug. 21 attack that killed hundreds of civilians, including children, in a suburb of Damascus held by government forces. The report did not assign blame, but its details made clear that the attack was launched by government forces.
Syrian rebels are not known to have the weapons used, which were fired by large launchers from positions under government control. The proposition that they secretly could have moved them into position for the sustained attack, then withdrawn them, defies reason.
In seeking to block a U.S. strike against Assad’s forces, Russia earlier had suggested insurgents might have launched the attack as a provocation to prompt a U.S. strike against Assad.
That Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations continued to question whether Syrian government forces were to blame underscores the caution with which any deal that hinges on Russia’s good faith must be approached.
By latching onto U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s offhand comment that Assad could avoid a unilateral retaliatory strike by giving up his chemical weapons, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov maneuvered the U.S. into an agreement that promises just that. Yet Russia has given up nothing as the provider of Assad’s arms and protector of the regime in the U.N.
What are Russia’s intentions? A Monday New York Times story about Lavrov reports the agreement as “the apex of a career largely spent trying to body-block what the Kremlin has long viewed as dangerous American unilateralism. . . .
“More broadly, though, Mr. Lavrov has sought to force the United States into a conversation that the Kremlin hopes will set a precedent, establishing Russia’s role in world affairs based not on the outdated cold war paradigm but rather on its own outlook, which favors state sovereignty and status quo stability over the spread of Western-style democracy.”
U.S. polls suggest that view aligns closely with the hopes of much of a war-weary America. The Syrian agreement will be the best possible outcome if the newly engaged U.N. Security Council makes sure it is enforceable, and thus makes clear in the volatile Mideast that there are some lines the world will not let despots cross.
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