The latest in the “Should we bomb Syria?” mess is certainly unexpected: John Kerry’s off-the-cuff suggestion that Assad just give up all of his chemical weapons continues to gain actual momentum, while the White House remains very cautious and somewhat optimistic. Syria’s foreign minister said today that his government “agreed to the Russian initiative” in hopes they can “uproot U.S. aggression.” France is onboard, too, and will take the proposal, in the form of a resolution, to the United Nations Security Council today. Still, France’s foreign minister warned, “We don’t want to accept any delay tactics. We mustn’t fall into a trap.”
The terms must be “nonnegotiable,” he said. “Syrians must take immediate commitments.”
“We are hoping to present this plan in the near future,” said the Russian foreign minister. “We will be ready to work through this plan and improve it with the participation of the U.N. general secretary, with chemical weapons control organizations and with the members of the Security Council.” China likes the idea, as well.
In Washington, the mood is more reserved. “It’s possible if it’s real. And, you know, I think it’s certainly a positive development when the Russians and the Syrians both make gestures toward dealing with these chemical weapons,” said President Obama yesterday. (Britain followed suit, and Germany said these were “interesting suggestions.”) It “could potentially be a significant breakthrough,” Obama said, suggesting “a grain of salt.”
The possibility, though, buys Assad time. Maybe Obama, too: The American people, while accepting that Assad used chemical weapons, are still deeply skeptical about the overall rationale for an attack, and a majority are opposed to military action. Both Assad and Obama know this. Congress, meanwhile, has already delayed its vote, which was not looking good for the White House. And in lieu of these new proposals, there’s no telling what the president will say in his address to the public, scheduled for 9 p.m.
John Kerry, who accidentally added this plot twist, reportedly said all he could at this point to Russia: “We’re not going to play games.”
Update, 2:35 p.m.: “We are ready to state where the chemical weapons are, to halt production of chemical weapons and show these installations to representatives of Russia, other countries and the UN,” said Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem. The AP reports that the deal includes signing the chemical weapons convention.
“Russia will propose a presidential statement on Syria at the United Nations Security Council, which is far less binding than a resolution,” the Times reports. Their foreign minister said, “The Russian draft confirms that there is no alternative to a political and diplomatic settlement of the conflict.”