Friday, September 13, 2013

Assad agrees to sign convention banning chemical weapons

Syrian President Bahar al-Assad has signed a decree stating that Syria will accede to international law governing chemical weapons, according to a UN spokesperson.
The spokesperson for UN, secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, said: "The secretary general has today received a letter from the government of Syria, informing him that President Assad has signed the legislative decree providing for the accession of Syria to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction of 1992. In their letter, the Syrian authorities have expressed their commitment to observe the obligations entailed by the convention even before its entry into force for Syria." Assad had already said in an interview on Russian TV that he was ready to sign the law. Assad said that he was placing his chemicals under international control at Russia's request, not because of the US threat of force. Assad repeated his position that he was not responsible for the chemical attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, but blamed terrorists who had weapons supplied by other countries.
 Assad promises that thirty days after signing the international convention, he will begin handing over data about his chemical stockpile. This is too slow a pace for John Kerry as he says in the appended video. On the face of it, Assad's announcement appears as a positive development. However after his announcement he added on qualifications that basically make his whole project completely unacceptable to the US and its allies. 
In a Russian interview, Assad said: "It doesn’t mean that Syria will sign the documents, fulfill the obligations and that’s it. It’s a bilateral process aimed, first of all, at making the US stop pursuing its policy of threats against Syria. Terrorists are trying to provoke American strike against Syria." Assad calls all the rebels terrorists. Assad went even further suggesting that no country in the Middle East should have weapons of mass destruction. Ensuring the Middle East was free of such weapons would mean no devastating and expensive wars in the area. However, there have been such wars even without the use of weapons of mass destruction for the most part. Assad made specific reference to Israel: “If we want stability in the Middle East, all the countries in the region should stick to [international] agreements. And Israel is the first state that should do so, since Israel possessed nuclear, chemical, biological and all other kinds of weapons of mass destruction." 
The diplomatic process will fail if both sides put conditions in their proposals which doom them from the beginning. This happened in the French draft resolution for the UN which would place the blame for the chemical weapons attack on Assad and also allow the use of force if Assad did not keep his commitments under the resolution. Russia would veto any such resolution. If Assad thinks that he can get Obama to take the use of force off the table that is also unrealistic and there is no way he can expect the US and its allies to stop providing weapons for the rebels. He is also dreaming if he thinks Israel would give up its nuclear weapons. Israel signed but has not yet ratified the international convention banning chemical weapons. Probably Assad will follow Israel's example on chemical weapons. 
 John Kerry, the US Secretary of State, flew to Geneva today along with a team of officials to study the Russian proposals and meet with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. I hope that much of what each side has said so far is just posturing, and that behind the scenes the Russians and Americans can actually work out a solution. However, so far there is little reason for optimism.

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