Surprise: Syria likely to miss chemical weapons removal deadline
posted at 12:26 pm on December 30, 2013 by Guy Benson
It’s not that the Syrian regime is necessarily a deeply unreliable, er, “peace partner,” you see. These delays are a result of innocent “external influences” — like the weather:
The removal of deadly toxins from Syria under an international effort to rid the nation of its chemical arsenal will likely miss a December 31 deadline, the global chemical arms watchdog said. Bad weather and shifting battlefronts in Syria’s civil war have delayed the delivery of essential supplies to sites where the toxins are being prepared to be sent to Latakia port, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said. “A delay will probably occur,” Franz Krawinkler, the OPCW’s logistics head told Austrian ORF state television on Saturday. “Because of various external influences, including the weather… certain logistical supplies that are needed for this transport, could not be delivered in time.” … Damascus agreed to transport the “most critical” chemicals, including around 20 tons of mustard nerve agent, out of the northern port of Latakia by December 31 to be safely destroyed abroad away from the war zone. A Russian diplomat was also quoted as saying on Friday that the deadline would be missed because the toxins that can be used to make sarin, VX gas and other agents still faced a potentially hazardous trip to the port of Latakia. “The removal has not yet begun,” Russia’s RIA news agency quoted Mikhail Ulyanov as saying after an international meeting on the chemical arms removal effort.
Whether the international community even has a solid grasp on the precise location of Syria’s WMD stockpiles is another matter altogether. In any case, Assad and friends have little to fear in the way of American reprisals for failing to hold up their end of the bargain in a timely manner. One might say that the Obama administration is infinitely forgiving of missed deadlines and arbitrary delays; plus, beyond John Kerry’s accidental brainstorm, there is no plan B. President Obama saw a political exit ramp that allowed him to make Syria “go away” in the minds of most Americans, and he eagerly took it. There’s no way he’ll allow a few compliance hiccups to thrust his rudderless policy on the crisis back into the spotlight. Earlier this month, the US suspended aid to Syrian rebel groups due to a serious escalation of infighting within the opposition movement. These tensions have been driven by the (still) increasing prevalence of Islamist extremists within the anti-Assad coalition — a risk that our Secretary of State dismissed in Congressional testimony, citing analysis from a discredited “expert.” The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin examines the latest failed permutation of the administration’s Syria posture. Smart power:
The Obama administration’s outreach to the Islamic Front in Syria earlier this month failed due to a flawed plan and unrealistic goals, insiders say—and now American influence on the ground with the armed Syrian opposition is at a new low. In a Principals Committee-level meeting at the White House in early December, top officials from several national security agencies convened to decide on the next steps in the Obama administration’s Syria policy. The leadership of the Free Syrian Army, the moderate Western-backed rebels, had been chased from their headquarters in Northern Syria, leaving U.S. non-lethal aid in the hands of the Islamic Front, a new alliance of Salafist groups estimated to control over 130,000 fighters throughout Syria. At this meeting, the top U.S. officials decided to open up direct engagement with the Islamic Front for the first time in the three-year civil war, according to three administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss internal government deliberations. But above State Department objections, the White House determined that the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, would not be appointed to talk to the Islamic Front, despite the fact that he was already in Turkey for meetings with other opposition groups. The White House dictated that a lower-level official, the deputy director of the Syria desk, would represent America at the momentous encounter. Just before the appointed time, the Islamic Front cancelled the meeting.
Regime change — “Assad must go” — remains the official US stance vis-a-vis Syria (I think), an outcome that looks less imminent by the day. Meanwhile, sectarian fighting has spilled into Lebanon, prompting the Saudis to send billions in aid to help fortify the country’s army. According to NBC News, “one of the few institutions not overtaken by the sectarian divisions that plague the country, Lebanon’s army is ill-equipped to deal with internal militant groups…The Sunni Muslim kingdom of Saudi Arabia may be seeking to bolster the army as a counterbalance to Hezbollah, seen as the most effective and powerful armed group in Lebanon and funded by the regional Shi’ite power Iran.” The Obama administration appears unwilling to do or say much of anything that may ruffle Tehran’s fragile sensibilities, for fear of chasing the Iranians away from the negotiating table. I’ll leave you with this: