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UPDATED: August 12, 2014 NO. 38 SEPTEMBER 19, 2013
A Turning Point?
Russia's new proposal on the Syrian crisis raises hope amid the uncertainty
By Yu Lintao

HUMAN SHIELDS: Young Syrian volunteers deployed to Al Mamun telecommunications facility outside of Damascus on September 8 to protect Syria against a baseless war of aggression (ZHANG NAIJIE)

U.S. President Barack Obama's embrace of the Russian suggestion to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control has brought a temporary sense of relief to the international community. The seemingly positive turn at least brings the prospect of giving the diplomatic process more time to handle the Syrian crisis.

Observers claimed that the step has undoubtedly presented a way out of the highly tense current situation for both sides in the near term. But in the long run, they said, the risk of a Syrian war still remains as it is possible the two sides will engage in endless haggling over the inspection of Syrian chemical weapon—much like what happened in Iraq years ago.

If inspection delays do occur, observers predicted Washington would probably turn to military action to settle the problem, which will surely add new troubles to the turmoil in the Middle East and impact related countries.

Diplomatic overture

Just before the U.S. Congress was set to begin debating whether to approve a possible U.S. strike against Syria, Russia proposed a fresh initiative on the Syrian crisis inspired by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's seemingly off-the-cuff statement in a London news conference.

When asked whether there is anything Assad could do to stop U.S. strikes, Kerry said, "Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week...without delay and allow the full and total accounting for that, but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done, obviously."

Kerry might not have meant his words sincerely at that time, but Russia soon took up the idea and it was welcomed by Syria.

Observers said the Russian proposal would be like extinguishing the fire before it could reach the "powder keg" of the Middle East, offering a solution to the respective dilemmas of both Damascus and Washington.

"For Obama, if the motive of the planned punitive strike is to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria as he claims, the Russian proposal could achieve that end without a drop of blood spilled. Washington could avoid a military attack unpopular both at home and abroad," Yu Guoqing, an associate researcher with the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), told Beijing Review." And for the Assad administration, giving up its chemical weapons could at least avoid suffering the disaster of war for the moment."

Though the move is seen as the first step toward a political solution of the Syrian crisis, Yu worried that the issue might yet run into problems over the inspection of Syrian chemical weapons, much like the nuclear weapon inspections in Iraq under Saddam Hussein's regime.

Uncertainty remains whether the United States would resort to military action or not if the inspection on Syria's chemical arsenal meets difficulties in the future, Yu said.

Li Shaoxian, Vice President of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR) and a senior researcher on Middle East studies, said the operation of chemical arsenal inspection in Syria is actually very difficult despite the Assad administration's sincere willingness to give up chemical weapons for the sake of peace under the current situation.

He said that on one hand, it's uncertain whether the Syrian opposition's share of the chemical arsenals in the country will be included in the inspection. On the other hand, the opposition is unwilling to see Washington abandon military action on Assad's administration. It is possible that the opposition will create problems for the diplomatic process, including the chemical arsenal inspection.

It cannot be ruled out that Washington could continue to make an issue of the chemical arsenal inspection, said Li.

In a nationally televised speech on September 11, Obama said he ordered the U.S. military to maintain its "current posture to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails." Though Obama called the Russian offer an encouraging sign, he warned that "it's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad administration keeps its commitments."

In the meantime, the United States has already provided weapons for the Syrian opposition. Opposition spokesman Khaled Saleh confirmed in a news conference on September 10 that Washington has provided lethal aid to them. France is also still preparing for military action as the diplomatic process is ongoing.

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