Two significant diplomatic moves have emerged since President Barack Obama’s abrupt decision to delay a missile attack against Syria’s chemical weapons. These bold initiatives should be pursued vigorously.
First, following a week of intense negotiation, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached an ambitious agreement to bring Syria’s chemical stockpile under international control and destruction.
The first requirement in the agreement is that Syria release an inventory of its chemical weapons. On Sept. 21, the international Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced the disclosure had been received from the Syrian government.
No one should be so naïve as to believe Russia has suddenly become an impartial supporter of resolving the Syrian civil war in the best interests of the Syrian people. Nor has Syrian President Bashar al-Assad changed his stripes.
What is important, however, is that diplomacy has replaced missiles, at least temporarily, as the chosen modality to effect resolution of the Syrian civil war.
Building on the apparent momentum of the chemical weapons agreement, the Syrian government and opposition representatives expressed conditional willingness to attend international peace talks in Geneva proposed last May by Russia and the United States. Though difficult hurdles must be cleared before talks can occur, it is certain there would be no diplomatic initiative under way had the United States launched missile attacks on Syria.
Second, diplomatic moves also are under way between the U.S. and Iran. In a recent letter to newly elected Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Mr. Obama reportedly expressed U.S. desires to resolve the nuclear dispute between Iran and much of the international community. Mr. Rouhani, described as a moderate cleric, characterized Mr. Obama’s letter as “positive and constructive” and in a news conference said Iran is “ready for negotiation and talks with the West.” Mr. Obama’s bold initiative and Mr. Rouhani’s receptive response are encouraging.
An agreement between the U.S. and Iran on this critical issue would eliminate an almost-certain military attack by the U.S. and Israel on Iran’s nuclear facilities. The ramifications of such action are unfathomable and, more consequentially, uncontrollable.
The Syrian and Iranian issues are related and complex. Mr. Assad is Alawite, a minority Muslim sect in Syria, while the country is largely Sunni; Iran, a major military provider to Syria, is strongly Shiite. Preventing Sunni rise to power in Syria and preserving its own nuclear program are vital Iranian concerns.
There are times in history when adversaries recognize that mutually beneficial results come only from negotiated agreements. Maybe it’s the character and personality of national leaders at a given time; maybe it’s a realization that a zero-sum posture or lose-lose struggle is too risky.
This is one of those times. Mr. Obama is right to look beyond the seemingly hostile (to the U.S.) Syrian-Russian and Syrian-Iranian alliances and seize the moment in a search for democratic reforms in Syria and control of Iran’s nuclear capability.
Bo Statham is a retired lawyer, congressional aide and businessman. He lives in Gardnerville and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.