[Published 10 September 2013]
The swiftness with which attention is now being focused on collecting and destroying chemical weapons located in Syria has been truly breathtaking.
Last Friday 6 September - President Obama was waving a joint declaration signed by Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America at the G20 Summit in St Petersburg - in which there was not one mention of the need to collect and destroy those chemical weapons.
That same day President Obama in his press conference in St Petersburg had been dismissive of a similar proposal suggested in the Congress - after it was specifically drawn to his attention by a reporter.
Yet on Monday 9 September - US Secretary of State John Kerry - when asked in London if there was anything Syrian President Assad could do to avert a US military strike - replied:
“Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that”
Kerry seemed to shoot down his own idea - adding immediately:
“But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”
Kerry was made to look rather stupid when Russia’s Foreign Minister - Sergei Lavrov just hours later proposed the idea to Syria:
“We have given our proposal to Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and are counting on a fast and, I hope, positive response,”
Al-Moallem’s response was short and to the point:
“I carefully listened to Sergei Lavrov’s statement about it. In connection with this, I note that Syria welcomes the Russian initiative based on the Syrian leadership’s concern about the lives of our nationals and the security of our country. We also hail the wisdom of the Russian leadership which is trying to prevent an American aggression against our people.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron were quick to jump on the bandwagon and spoke positively of the proposal.
“Today there were very interesting proposals about the chemical weapons. If this is intended to lead to action and not to just play for time, then Germany will push hard for this path to be further pursued.”
Cameron - who only three days earlier had remained supportive of US President Barack Obama and his plan to embark on military intervention in Syria despite failing to get his own motion through government - was instantly converted to this proposal:
“If that were to be the case it would be hugely welcome. If Syria were to put its chemical weapons beyond use, under international supervision, clearly that would be a big step forward and should be encouraged.”
Even UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon - who had stood by watching the United Nations Security Council being paralysed as it struggled to get a resolution passed on the atrocity caused by the use of chemical weapons in Syria on 21 August - told reporters on Monday:
“I am considering urging the Security Council to demand the immediate transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons and chemical precursor stocks to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed.”
It seems inconceivable that all of the above players, their advisors and Foreign Offices could have allowed the chemical weapons crisis to spiral seriously out of control to the point where a military attack on Syria was the only option being considered.
But the most amazing conversion of all was that of President Obama himself.
Asked by Diane Sawyer of ABC News if he would put plans for an attack on pause should Assad yield control of his chemical weapons - Obama answered:
“Absolutely, if in fact that happened… Let’s see if we can come up with language that avoids a strike but accomplishes our key goals to make sure that these chemical weapons are not used”
Hopefully President Obama has since been on the phone to President Putin to knot out a resolution that can go to the Security Council for approval within the next 24 hours and allow the process of collecting and destroying all chemical weapons in Syria to take place without further delay.
There will no doubt be those who will question whether all such chemical weapons can be collected from both the Assad regime and the rebels.
One needs to wait and see.
Those weapons collected and destroyed under UN supervision will show Assad and the rebels that the world means business - and that any attempt to subvert the Security Council’s resolve will be met with an immediate response.
In a shameful self serving statement - President Obama is seeking to claim the credit for his amazing conversion from advocating and planning a military assault on Syria to securing agreement with Russia on collecting and destroying all chemical weapons in Syria - telling Diane Sawyer:
“I don’t think we would have gotten to this point unless we had maintained a credible possibility for a military strike and I don’t think now is the time for us to let up on that”
Had President Obama addressed the issue of collecting and destroying those chemical weapons rather that trying to blame Assad for having fired them - the process of destruction would already have been well underway.
Obama and Kerry’s judgment has been seriously compromised.
Their conversion to sanity and reality is to be welcomed.