“Consequences,” however, mean a lot of different things in diplo-speak. Secretary of State John Kerry wants to get critics off the back of the Obama administration for its incoherence in going from denying red lines to demanding authorization to bomb Bashar al-Assad’s regime to ceding control of the whole mess to Russia. After the climbdown, Barack Obama has retreated from the official US policy of regime change to allowing Vladimir Putin to put Assad in charge of chemical-weapons disarmament, but Kerry says there will still be teeth in the deal:
Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday briefed some of the United States’ closest allies on a broad agreement to end Syria‘s chemical weapons program, pressing for broad support for the plan that averted U.S. military strikes.
A day after visiting Israeli leaders, Kerry met in Paris with his counterparts from France, Britain, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who had pressed for strikes against the government of Bashar Assad after an Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds in the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Foreign ministers Laurent Fabius of France and William Hague of Britain, Kerry said the allies — and Russia — were in agreement that the U.N. resolution eventually adopted by the Security Council and based on the deal struck by Kerry and his Russian counterpart over the weekend must include “consequences” for the Syrians if they fail to adhere to the plan to dispose of chemical weapons.
Kerry told the press that the UN-enforced deal would reference Chapter 7, which includes military force as an option, but not as a solid consequence, after abrogation. However, that would require a second resolution from the UN Security Council, CBS reports:
But as CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk reports from the U.N., the framework agreed to by Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Geneva actually only provides for the option of a second resolution which could carry the authority of Chapter 7 use of force if the Syrians fail to meet their obligations as laid out in the first resolution, which is being debated this week.
First, though, the resolution has to pass, along with an agreed timetable for compliance. The agreement will probably take a week or two at the UNSC to pass, after working out the timetable and the composition of the team meant to inspect for compliance. Compliance will take months, especially as the Syrian civil war rages on, and destruction will take years. Unless Assad is stupid enough to outright refuse to comply, the conflicts over disarmament will stretch out over years, and any UNSC resolutions that follow are likely to aim at resolving “misunderstandings” and reiterating the demand for full compliance. That’s what happened over 12 years in Iraq with Saddam Hussein.
CBS also reports that Kerry insisted that the “end strategic goal” in Syria was a “transitional government,” but that will have to wait until Assad finishes dealing with the chemical weapons — which will take at least a year or two even if Assad is really complying with the process. A change of power would leave those weapons in the open, accessible to terrorist groups currently fighting Assad. Speaking of whom, the Russians countered today with their own idea of consequences in this situation:
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Monday it may be time to consider efforts to force foes of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to attend an international peace conference instead of just urging them to do so.
Lavrov also accused European countries of trying to reinterpret the agreement he reached with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry under which Syria is to give up its chemical weapons arsenal and avoid U.S. strikes.
Lavrov’s remarks suggested Russia will resist any rush to threaten military intervention if Assad fails to implement the deal and that it will blame the rebels – and the West – if the agreement does not lead to a wider push to end Syria’s conflict.
In other words, the Russians want the consequences applied to Assad’s foes, not Assad, and Lavrov is already contradicting how Kerry represents the agreement supposedly reached this weekend. Looks like a long twelve years for UN inspectors.
Update: Jeffrey Goldberg lists two reasons why Assad comes out the big winner this weekend:
1. So long as he doesn’t use chemical weapons on his people, he’ll be safe from armed Western intervention. Roughly 98 percent of the people who have died in the Syrian civil war so far have not been killed with chemical weapons, so obviously Assad and his regime have figured out ways to cause mass death in conventional ways. It’s safe to assume that he’ll increase the tempo of attacks on rebels and civilians, knowing now that he can do so with impunity. Obama won’t be outlining any further “red lines,” it would seem.
2. By partnering with Russia and the West on the disarmament process, a process that is meant to last into 2014 (and most likely won’t be finished for years, even if it is carried out in good faith, which is a big “if”), Assad has made himself indispensable. A post-Assad regime wouldn’t necessarily be party to this agreement, and might not even go through the motions. Syria, post-Assad, might very well be more fractured and chaotic than it is now, which is to say, even less of an environment in which United Nations weapons inspectors could safely go about their work. The U.S. now needs Assad in place for the duration. He’s the guy, after all, whose lieutenants know where the chemical weapons are.
The big losers? The Syrian people. That’s who gets to suffer the “consequences.”