Plan for Syria’s chemical weapons suits everyone but the opposition
Syrian government’s allies have expressed support for the initiative
Ahmad Abu Layl (right), a 15 year-old fighter from the Free Syrian Army, takes a walk with his father along a damaged street filled with debris in Aleppo yesterday. Photograph: Hamid Khatib/Reuters.
The plan to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and to eventually destroy them suits everyone but the opposition, the rebels and their regional backers.
The Syrian government’s allies have expressed support for the initiative, which could prevent military action
that would put them in an extremely difficult position.
China approves of the proposal as long as the proposal “helps ameliorate
the current tense situation in Syria, is beneficial to maintaining peace and stability in Syria and the region and [promotes] a political resolution,” said foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei. Beijing urged the international community “to give it positive consideration”.
His Iranian counterpart Marzieh Afkham said Tehran found the proposal “within the framework of putting an end to militarism in the region”.
She said any initiative should also cover opposition armed forces.
Tehran, having suffered chemical weapons attacks during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), was put into a very difficult position by accusations that Damascus, Iran’s closest regional ally, has allegedly used such weapons.
If the initiative moves forward, Russia, China and Iran could shift from trying to block US-led military action to pursuing the Geneva II international conference that could provide the opportunity for a negotiated end to the Syrian conflict.
UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon, Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi, Germany, France and Britain have expressed backing for the proposal, which buys time for a political rather than military solution, while the West maintains pressure on Damascus to deter use of chemical agents as well as to implement obligations under the plan.
The Russian plan, yet to be elaborated, could save face for western leaders and provide an alternative to military action deeply unpopular in the US, Britain, and France, chief advocates of strikes.
It also provides a means to eliminate Syria’s chemical stockpiles, which could not be destroyed by military action without endangering the population and which, the West fears, could fall into the hands of jihadi groups.
The Russian proposal could also be a boon to Syria. Chemical stockpiles have become a burden. Over the past two years, the army has been compelled to shift stores of chemical agents around the country to protect them from opponents. Once international teams take control of the toxic materials, the government may be able to free up and redeploy elite troops currently guarding both stocks and production sites.
As the prospect of air strikes recedes, the government could focus on the task of rolling back rebels and jihadis who have seized large areas of the country.
Domestic opposition groups, which condemn the alleged use of chemical weapons but reject military action, have welcomed the Russian plan.
Since the Russian initiative is designed to prevent US military strikes on Syria, the expatriate Syrian political opposition and the rebel Free Syrian Army have dismissed the proposal.
Western and Gulf Arab-allied Syrian National Coalition said it does not address accountability and “aims to stall for more time”, allowing the regime to kill more Syrians and threaten the region.Free Syrian Army spokesman Louay al-Mokdad also urged the world community not to agree to the Russian initiative.
Free Army commanders had hoped US strikes would degrade the army and allow rebels to improve their positions on the ground.
Radical jihadi groups may, however, be relieved as they had expressed concern that the US could attack them as well as government targets.