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Russia offers way out for Obama, Assad

Syria experts told AA that the Geneva agreement on dismantling Assad's chemical weapons benefits Obama as well as Assad

16.09.2013 - Update : 16.09.2013
Russia offers way out for Obama, Assad


Experts on Syria believe that the agreement between the US and Russia on dismantling the Assad regime's chemical weapons is also a way out for US President Barack Obama, who was indeed reluctant for a military operation, amid a perceived decline in US power in affecting the course of global affairs. 

Foreign Policy in Focus co-Director John Feffer told an AA correspondent that the US had basically gone through disillusionment regarding the power to transform the world in the way Washington policy makers wish to see.

With regard to Syria, Feffer said, "The US was unable to act unilaterally on Syria and unable to get congressional support suggested to me that we really have reached a news stage in terms of US power in the world."

Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma Joshua Landis told AA that Obama had a very weak hand to play when he realized that the American people did not want to bomb Syria and that Congress would vote against him. 

Landis added, "Russia's credibility is now on the line. Putin must deliver something from Assad."

Elaborating on whether or not Russia could be trusted in the new process, Landis said, "After all, Russia has protected Assad at every turn. But in the present context - one in which the US is retreating from its customary position of Policeman of the world - this diplomatic effort is better than nothing."

"We will have to wait and see how much pressure the Obama administration is willing to place on Assad to see whether he sticks to the ambitious timeline set out for the destruction of chemical weapons."

Asked whether Assad would comply with the plan or not, Landis said, "Assad will not follow it unless he has to. Two things can buy his compliance. Russia can pay for the destruction of chemical weapons by replacing them with conventional weapons or the US can make its threats credible."

Defining the existence of chemical weapons as an "important guarantee of [Assad's] regime survival," Landis explained the "Only thing that the West and most of Syria's neighbors fear more than the Assad regime possessing chemical weapons, is if the rebels get hold of them. Once Assad gives up these weapons, the world powers will have less at stake in the survival of his regime."

- Assad to gain time 

Speaking to AA, Efraim Karsh, Professor of Middle East & Mediterranean Studies at King's College London, said that the agreement provided a face-saving formula that allowed Obama to climb down the tree he had reluctantly climbed without suffering a humiliating defeat in Congress or unwillingly launching a mini-war.

Karsh added that for Assad, "The agreement is a life saver. In his dire position a year is like eternity. During this period he may crush the revolt with Tehran’s and Moscow’s help, which will make the issue of chemical disarmament a moot point. And even then, he can dispose of only some, or most, of his arsenal and still retain considerable covert capability given Syria’s huge chemical stockpiles."

Karsh stressed that paradoxically both the Syrians and Americans had a vested interest in creating the impression of progress in hopes that, within a year, the issue will be off the agenda.

by Selen Tonkuş


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