Cracks Are Showing in the Syria Compromise at the UN

It took less than 24 hours for significant fissures in a compromise response to Syria's chemical weapons to emerge.

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It took less than 24 hours for significant fissures to emerge in a compromise response to Syria's chemical weapons. If there's a deal to be made, it may be done at the United Nations.

"We accept the Russian proposal," the Syrian foreign minister reiterated in an interview with NBC News on Tuesday, "and we are ready to fulfill it according to the agreed plan between us and Russia." Sounds good — particularly with word Tuesday afternoon from the AP that Syria agreed to declare its chemical weapons arsenal and sign the international convention banning them.

And then the foreign minister continued. "But unfortunately, we started to hear from voices in the West," he continued, "people who believe only in war. We believed that when we accepted this proposal, this put an end to the war" — referring, apparently to the continuing threat of United States action against his country. That threat has been integral to the Obama administration's argument in support of the compromise, the stick-and-carrot approach that the administration suggests helped lead to the breakthrough.

Syria would prefer that threat not exist. In an interview with Kremlin-sponsored RT, Russian president Vladimir Putin agreed with its staunch allies: military force must be off the table.

"Certainly, this is all reasonable, it will function and will work out, only if the U.S. and those who support it on this issue pledge to renounce the use of force, because it is difficult to make any country – Syria or any other country in the world – to unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration."

Putin's argument is an odd one, given that no one has suggested "unilateral disarmament" from Syria. But it's the same argument that he's likely to use to oppose a United Nations resolution that includes authorization for force in response to a failure of Syria to meet the conditions of a compromise. (The United Nations is holding a meeting Tuesday afternoon to figure out its preferred course of action.) The first draft of an agreement proposed by France met with objections from Russia, as The Washington Post reports.

After a telephone conversation Tuesday with Lavrov, [French Foreign Minister Laurent] Fabius said Russia is reluctant to agree to a binding UN Security Council resolution that would provide a framework to control Syria’s chemical weapons stocks.

“I understand that the Russians, at this stage, are not necessarily enthusiastic, and I’m using a euphemism, to frame all this in a binding UN resolution,” Fabius told French lawmakers.

That draft included five elements, according to Al Jazeera's Marcelle Hopkins:

  • 1. Condemn the August 21 attack.
  • 2. Syria puts its chemical weapons under international control.
  • 3. Syria signs the convention barring chemical weapons.
  • 4. Consequences are articulated for non-compliance.
  • 5. Refer the action to the International Criminal Court.

Syria agreed to No. 3. But it's No. 4 that's the tricky one, for now. For what it's worth, Hayes Brown, blogger at ThinkProgress Security, thinks that Russian pushback is natural, part of the negotiating process. If Russia asks for a non-binding statement from the president of the UN — as reports have indicated — that doesn't preclude additional further action, he points out.

It's not clear whether or not Syria's acquiescence to giving up its weapons, which seems likely, includes the UN at all. Syria agreed to Russia's plan; how it might respond to the involvement of non-Russian actors isn't clear.

The diplomatic push is evolving quickly. Twenty-four hours ago, even this much seemed unlikely.

Photo: The foreign ministers of Syria, left, and Russia, right. (AP)

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