[Published 15 September 2013]
The swift agreement between Russia and America to collect and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons has been an impressive diplomatic achievement - marred only by the fact that it has taken three weeks longer to reach this point because of their joint failure to focus on ending the use of chemical weapons in Syria - rather than focusing on who was responsible for the atrocity that caused the deaths of 1429 Syrians on 21 August.
Speculation is rife that Syria may have spirited away some part of its chemical weapons arsenal to Iraq and Lebanon in those lost crucial three weeks. Hopefully further joint action by America and Russia in conjunction with UN inspectors can establish the truth or otherwise of this claim.
Equally impressive is the news is that Syria has met its obligations in applying for membership in the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) - as advised by UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky.
“The secretary-general, in his capacity of the depositary of the 1992 Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, has received the formal instrument of accession to the convention by the Syrian Arab Republic… The convention will enter into force for the Syrian Arab Republic on the 30th day following the date of deposit of this instrument of accession, namely on October 14 2013.”
Remarkably - the rebel forces fighting the Assad regime for the last 30 months seem to have set the stage for their demise - by indicating they will not accept the terms of the agreement reached between America and Russia - that should be translated into a binding Security Council Resolution within the next seven days calling for the collection and destruction of all chemical weapons in Syria.
The Kuwaiti News Agency has reported:
"The flagship accord was also applauded by several nations including Arab states namely Egypt and Algeria, but in Istanbul, the Syrian Free Army commander Major-General Saleem Idrees rejected the US-Russian agreement, saying it “will not solve the crisis” in Syria.” He added that the opposition Syrian Free Army would not implement any part of the accord.
“Me and my brother fighters will continue fighting until the removal of the regime. We can’t approve” this agreement, he said and criticized the deal which did not mention a single word on Al-Assad.”
This report - if accurate - could well signal the end of armaments supplies, funding and promised diplomatic support from America and the West for the Syrian Free Army.
It is clear that Russia has fairly and squarely attached the blame for the 21 August atrocity on the rebels - whilst America has been blaming the Assad regime.
Now America and Russia have procured Syria to come to the party and agree to destroy its chemical weapons - the suspicion must still exist - certainly according to Russia - that the rebels are also still in possession of such weapons.
Refusing to surrender any chemical weapons the Syrian Free Army has - or in case of denying it has any such weapons then allowing UN inspectors to verify this fact - will lead to the swift withdrawal of some of the the lifelines that has given the Syrian Free Army the ability to wage the civil war for the last 30 months.
In a roundup of statements supporting the historic agreement reached between America and Russia - the Kuwaiti news agency reported:
“The use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world is an affront to human dignity and a threat to the security of people everywhere,” the President (Obama) said. “We have a duty to preserve a world free from the fear of chemical weapons for our children. Today marks an important step toward achieving this goal.” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed understanding reached by Lavrov and Kerry regarding the safeguarding and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. “The Secretary General looks forward to learning more of this framework agreement and pledges the support of the United Nations in its implementation,” a UN statement said.
The agreement was applauded by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. “This is an important step towards the goal of ensuring the swift, secure and verifiable elimination of Syria’s stocks of chemical weapons. Full and unreserved Syrian compliance is now key,” he said in a statement tonight.
He stressed that the international community has a responsibility to make sure that the long-standing norm and practice against the use of chemical weapons is maintained, and violators are held accountable.”
It is inconceivable that the Syrian Free Army will be able to escape full compliance with the obligation to surrender all chemical weapons in its possession without paying a heavy price politically for continuing support in its civil war against the Assad regime.
America and Russia must now both remain focused on collecting and destroying all chemical weapons in Syria - in whoever’s possession they happen to be.
Continuing failure by the Syrian Free Army to co-operate in achieving this objective could lead to a swift collapse of the uprising and leave Assad in charge - vindicating the political support given to him unswervingly by Russia, China and Iran.
This may be an unpalatable result for the West to swallow - but it’s inevitability now seems to be well on the cards.
In failing to co-operate with the America-Russia initiative - the Syrian Free Army may well be signing its own death warrant.