The Middle East Channel

United States and Russia begin talks on Syrian chemical weapons disarmament

United States and Russia begin talks on Syrian chemical weapons disarmament

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will begin two days of meetings in Geneva Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss Russia’s proposal for an international plan to disarm the Syrian government of its chemical weapons. Kerry and Lavrov, aided by chemical weapons experts, are aiming to agree on a blueprint for a U.N. Security Council resolution. According to a U.S. official, the meetings will be an exploratory session to see if it is possible to dismantle Syria’s chemical arsenal amidst the civil war. Additionally, Kerry will push for Syria to take immediate steps to show it is serious about relinquishing its chemical arms. The United States and Russia are divided over whether the resolution will include a chapter seven mandate which would allow for the use of military force if Syria does not comply with its provisions. Russian President Vladimir Putin argued against a U.S. military intervention in Syria appealing to the U.S. public in a New York Times op-ed Wednesday. Meanwhile, fierce clashes have continued in the historic Christian town of Maaloula, despite reports that government forces have taken control. Additionally, Syrian warplanes bombed a main hospital in northern opposition-held territory on Wednesday. The bombing, in the town of al-Bab, about 19 miles northeast of Aleppo, reportedly killed 11 civilians, including two doctors, and destroyed the emergency and radiology departments of the hospital.


  • Two explosions carried out by a suicide bomber killed at least 35 worshippers leaving a Shiite mosque in northern Baghdad Wednesday evening as violence continues to surge in Iraq.
  • The National Security Agency (NSA) has an intelligence-sharing agreement with Israel and has routinely shared raw intelligence information about U.S. citizens.
  • Al Jazeera said it will take international legal action against Egypt’s military-led government over a "sustained campaign of harassment and intimidation" against its journalists.
  • There is increasing evidence that camels are likely the link in the transmission from bats to humans of the MERS virus, which has recently claimed dozens of lives predominantly in the Gulf.

Arguments and Analysis

"The Big If": Ending bloodshed in Syria‘ (Leila Hilal, CNN)

"It appears clear that by threatening military intervention, Obama was able to advance Syria’s conflict toward a potential point of agreement for action. The United States should reserve that right to use force within a particular timeline but without letting it become a stumbling block at the Security Council.

The administration should also continue to make the case to the American people that Syria’s suffering didn’t start with chemical weapons and will not end in the chance that they are secured or destroyed.

If these negotiations are to be a real opportunity, they must be viewed as a step toward a larger political initiative to achieve conditions for a negotiated transition from civil war to relative stability and eventually the democratic Syria for which so many have sacrificed."

Limited Options‘ (George Packer, The New Yorker)

"The Administration’s case for making Assad pay is as practically flawed as it is morally defensible. The war-weary American people overwhelmingly oppose it, and the debate in Washington is not winning them over to President Obama’s side. There’s also a problem with the debate itself: Obama seems to be reserving the right to ignore Congress if it fails to deliver the verdict he wants, which has led Senator Rand Paul, of Kentucky, to accuse the Administration of ‘making a joke of us.’ In the meantime, a number of Republicans talk about the Syria crisis as if it were an overseas extension of the debt crisis — another chance to thwart a President they despise. The geopolitics of military action are just as problematic: the United States, supported by a handful of mostly silent partners, is upholding a collective standard single-handedly, and preserving the mission of the United Nations by ignoring it.

It would be less difficult to wave off these contradictions if the Administration seemed to have a plan for the day after the last cruise missile takes out the last Syrian jet. But the flaws start to appear fatal when you consider the lack of any strategy beyond bombing. It’s a worrying sign when America’s chief diplomat refers to the central objective in Syria as ‘a collateral connection.’ The Administration would like to frame missile strikes as a kind of judicial action, a one-time ruling from the bench, not as a military intervention. Yet bombing would change the balance of power in Syria and, one way or another, entangle America in the civil war despite Obama’s ardent wish to stay out. The White House clearly failed to plan for a mass chemical-weapons attack; it would now be far better for the Administration to think through ways of reaching American goals before the missiles launch."

Iran Surprises Itself and the World‘ (Suzanne Maloney, Brookings)

"Three decades of rule by a revolutionary Islamic regime has generated a political reality that in many ways fails to conform to the ideological imperatives of its founders-or, for that matter, to the one-dimensional depiction that has become entrenched in the Western imagination. Iran remains a place of jarring contradictions. It is at once an autocratic system, governed by the whims of a ruler who claims a divine mandate, and at the same time a fractious country shaped by factional competition and the institutions of representative rule. Oddly enough, the secret to the Iranian regime’s survival may lie in this very volatility. The dual and dueling institutions of the Islamic Republic are in its DNA, inciting the power struggles that ultimately determine Tehran’s decisions. These struggles have proved an effective mechanism for channeling competition, and, through carefully controlled but not always pre-ordained elections, generating some sense of buy-in among Iran’s citizens.

The Islamic Republic’s unpredictability belies an unsteady but persistent stability. When the devastating sanctions that were the byproduct of the nuclear crisis threatened this equilibrium, the system stepped in to right itself again, and there is now reason to hope that the crisis can be managed to the satisfaction of both Iran and the West.

But, there is also reason to worry that this self-correction will not happen. We expect revolutions to diminish in fervor, to modulate fiery tenor and rationalize unconventional policies, once the chaos and violence that accompanies any sudden change has subsided. The Iranian Revolution has not followed this model. Despite substantive changes during its 34-year history, the Islamic Republic has yet to fully embrace the moderation that should herald the twilight of the revolution. It is still too soon to say if Rouhani’s election will be the harbinger of a durable Thermidor for Iran’s theocracy."

–Mary Casey & Joshua Haber