A U.S.—Russian plan to avoid a military strike in Syria is moving forward, but the tight timetable is already raising some tough questions for the agency charged with enforcing it. That's as the State Department indicates that Syria might miss its first deadline under the plan. The country is supposed to disclose its inventory of chemical stockpiles and facilities by Saturday.
On Friday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will meet to discuss the Syria deal framework, announced last weekend, and decide whether to adopt the plan or not. But as the Wall Street Journal explains, the agency will likely feel pressure to take on the agreement between the two powerful countries, even as the limitations of its own structure and resources raise questions about how it can actually follow through on it. In the plan, inspections must be completed, with production facilities destroyed, by November. Syria would have to be chemical weapons free by the middle of 2014, a process that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has already said would take him a year.
Here's more from the Wall Street Journal:
The bigger question may be whether the OPCW is equipped to carry out such a fast timeline. It was set up to inspect chemical arms in a methodical way, not at a breakneck pace in the midst of a civil war, and it has never faced such a high-pressure job. "The OPCW is not designed for this," said David Chuter, a former disarmament expert with the British government. "The idea that a country at war might join the Chemical Weapons Convention and be inspected never remotely crossed anyone's mind." Mr. Chuter now heads ISIS-Europe, a security think tank.
As the Journal notes, however, both the U.S. and Russia have an interest in making sure the process reads as a success, and there are a few ways to go about accomplishing that. For instance, instead of totally destroying the stockpile by the deadline, the agency could simply render the weapons unusable, which wouldn't take as long to do.
Meanwhile, the OPCW could get a bit more time to figure out the details if Syria misses its first deadline on Saturday, as the State Department seems to think it might, despite previous expectations to the contrary. According to the LA Times, the State Department is already signaling that they don't expect the country to produce a full inventory of its stockpile and facilities. Spokesperson Marie Harf told the Times on Wednesday that "our goal is to see forward momentum" by Saturday, adding, "We've never said it was a hard and fast deadline." The OPCW's inspections are slated to begin immediately after the inventory list is in hand. In an interview Wednesday evening with Fox News, however, Assad claimed that his country could produce the inventory list "tomorrow" if needed.