At the end of three days of discussions in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached an agreement about Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. It is a six-stage plan that, hopefully, will clean Syria of unconventional weapons by the middle of 2014.
U.S. President Barack Obama was quick to express his satisfaction. It is now possible to say with certainty that the military option is off the table, particularly after taking a closer look at how the Russians neutralized Chapter 7 of the U.N. mandate, which allows for military intervention.
The Geneva agreement, which was signed yesterday, is the type of deal where (almost) all of the sides are happy. Obama no longer needs to attack, Putin saved his ally Syria, and Assad received an extension but more importantly was not punished for gassing civilians on August 21.
Of course, there are those who will see the glass half full as it pertains to this deal: Syria is dismantling its chemical weapons arsenal without a fight. In the meantime, however, this is still nothing but talk and promises. There is one side that is obviously outraged: the rebels and the relatives of the victims.
The editing done to Chapter 7 of the U.N. mandate is the big story of this agreement. Chapter 7 gives a green light to impose sanctions and use military force if the Assad regime fails to meet its commitments or again uses chemical weapons against civilians -- two scenarios that are certainly not unreasonable considering the player.
The Russians have already made it clear that any Syrian violation would call for a U.N. Security Council examination of the situation and only the council would be authorized to determine if further measures are required. Lavrov stressed that "nothing was decided in regard to the use of force or automatic sanctions. [Action against] any violation requires approval from the Security Council." And who will defend Syria at the U.N. Security Council if Syria indeed violates the terms of the agreement? Russia, of course. Washington does not mind that the cat is guarding the cream.
By Saturday already it was obvious that the Americans, who so wanted to avoid military intervention, were even prepared to compromise on Chapter 7, so much so that Lavrov and Kerry, one after the other, could present the deal as their own personal victory at their joint press conference. Kerry emphasized that Chapter 7 still allows for a military option, Lavrov made the exact opposite presentation. And the amazing thing is that both are convinced they are right.
The Iranians, not surprisingly, will do their best to teach Assad the art of buying time. It has been 10 years and the Security Council is still unable to put an end to Iran's nuclear program. Now we will see how the diplomats in New York handle Syria's chemical weapons. The important thing is that Obama has given this deal his blessing. Now he can truly turn to domestic issues, and if he finds complex problems there as well he can always call Putin.