Here Are All The Reasons Why The Syria Chemical Weapons Agreement Won't Work

SyriaREUTERS/Brendan McDermidSyrian U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari shows a document to reporters at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, September 12, 2013.

On Friday U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov
said that any international peace deal ending the civil war now relies on Russia’s proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under international control.

But there are a bunch of obvious stumbling blocks to the lofty ambitions, including:

1) Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would not follow through with the Russian proposal unless the U.S. “stops threatening, striving to attack [Syria] and also ceases arms deliveries to terrorists.”

• The White House considers the threat of force integral to diplomatic efforts, and the U.S. strategy of training and arming vetted rebels is unlikely to end.

2) Moscow rejected U.S. and French demands for a binding U.N. Security Council resolution including “very severe consequences” for Syrian non-compliance.

• On Thursday State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said: “The threat of military action is still on the table.”

• France “remains determined to punish the use of chemical weapons” by Assad’s regime and insists that any U.N. Security Council resolution should have a threat of force if diplomacy fails.

3) Assad said that Israel “is the first [country] that should” ratify the the Chemical Weapons Convention.

• Both Syria and Israel have signed the agreement. Israel refuses to ratify as long at its neighbours can threaten the country with chemical weapons.

4) The Russian proposal relies on trusting Assad to give up all 1,000-plus tons of chemical weapons, which are one of the Syrian military’s three primary strategic assets.

• The Wall Street Journal reports that Syria’s elite Unit 450 — which is in charge of securing, mixing, and deploying chemical munitions — “has been moving stocks of poison gases and munitions to as many as 50 sites to make them harder for the U.S. to track.”

According to Middle East expert Mike Doran, “Assad will never under any condition truly relinquish his [chemical weapons]. He is a proven liar on issues such as this.”

5) The plan entails the unprecedented task of securing and destroying what is considered the world’s third largest chemical weapons stockpile during an ongoing civil war.

• One senior administration official told the New York Times that securing chemical arms in a war zone “just the first nightmare of making this work.”

• Cheryl Rofer, who supervised a team responsible for destroying chemical warfare agents at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, told Foreign Policy that the disarmament work “is simply too dangerous to do while people are shooting at each other.” A ceasefire in the 30-month conflict is very unlikely if not impossible to enforce.

•The process in Syria would be “exceedingly difficult” because, even with ceasefire, the destruction and deactivation of those weapons would take years and require tens of thousands of troops to protect inspectors.

The negotiations have paused U.S. plans for a strike in retaliation to an August 21 chemical weapons attack on Syrian civilians. Assad and Putin deny the Syrian government carried out the attack but have not presented any evidence to the contrary.

Assad said
“Syria is transferring chemical weapons under international control because of Russia” and that “the U.S. threats [of force] hadn’t influenced” his government’s decision.

However, that claim is belied by other comments by Assad.

“It is a bilateral process aimed principally at making the US cease pursuing its policy of aggression against Syria and proceed in compliance with the Russian initiative,” he told Russiya 24 TV before listing his demands.

All in all, agreeing to the terms of Russia and Syria would sap the opposition while giving Assad every reason to stall while the war grinds on.

For these reasons (and others) the military wing of the Syria’s main opposition group flatly rejected Russia’s proposal, and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said he believes it is “doubtful that the promises regarding chemical weapons will be met.”

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