Middle East Situation – World at the Crossroads (Part I)
Vladimir Putin - President of Russia
Just when the situation in the Middle East was reaching boiling point and waiting to explode in the form of an expected US-led attack on Syria, a piece of smart and shrewd diplomacy by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin undid it all for the US. Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times, while questioning the US plan of attacking Syria, without seeking UN approval, saw this as an attack not just on Syria but on the relevance, existence and future of UN itself, the organisation formed for achieving lasting world peace. Putin’s op-ed concluded with an astounding jolt to the global community and especially to the US, when he compared the fate of UN with the League of Nations, a precursor of UN in the post First World War era. This op-ed was the single most important factor that put the US on the defensive and brought it to the negotiations table with Russia on the issues concerning the situation in Syria and more particularly on the use of chemical weapons there.
While it appears that an armed conflict has been averted for the present, the possibility of its recurrence in future cannot be ruled out at all. In response to a proposal from Russia, Syria has agreed to give-up on its chemical weapons and facilities. Although the US has agreed with Russia on its proposal on Syrian crisis, there still remains a major and dangerous difference in opinion between the two sides, as to how the US would respond in case Syria goes back on its words. A few days back, the US had even hinted at using the military option in the event that Syria backtracks on its promise. However, the US President Barack Obama carefully avoided any mention of this during his address to the United Nations General Assembly last week. It is important to note that at a time when the US has agreed to this Russian brokered deal, they have also started preparing for increasing weapons supply to the Syrian rebels fighting the government forces. Along with the US, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar too are assisting rebels through all possible means. The Syrian rebels have also found growing sympathy from Turkey and Jordan as well. At this same time, Syrian President has claimed that the external forces, especially Turkey that are supporting the rebels will have to repent, as the rebels that they are currently supporting would turn against them in the days to come. All these happenings certainly point towards the possibility of escalation of strife and violence across Syria, in particular, and the Middle East, at large, in the days to come.
Meanwhile, there has also been a frenzied exchange of accusations between the US and Syrian rebels on the one side and Assad regime and Russia on the other, for fixing the blame for the use of chemical weapons on civilians. In what appears to be a brief respite for this war-torn region, Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the Netherlands head-quartered intergovernmental organisation, that promotes and verifies the adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention, has confirmed that they have received a dossier from the Assad government on the Syrian chemical weapons programme and facilities, as per the Russian brokered deal. However, the Russian President’s statement at this juncture that it would be difficult to believe that the Assad regime would give up on its entire stockpile of chemical weapons as also the facilities has made the Western powers sceptical and eyebrows have been raised about this entire arrangement. The Assad regime has estimated that it would take them one year to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile and that the whole process would cost around $1 billion. It is also worth noting that the former US Secretary of State and a veteran diplomat, Henry Kissinger has expressed doubts over the deal reached over Syria with Russia. Like Putin, Kissinger too has said that Syria may, at best, destroy 90% of its chemical weapons and continue to maintain the rest. Kissinger further claimed that even the significantly reduced stockpile of chemical weapons would pose a major threat. While bashing Syria on the one hand, Kissinger surprisingly said on the other that it is in interest of the US to trust Russia at this point in time over the Syrian agreement.
Bashar al-Assad - President of Syria
Meanwhile, on last Friday, the UN Security Council voted unanimously for a resolution that makes the OPCW legally binding on Assad's regime. However, under a compromise clinched between Russia and the Western powers last week, the said resolution does not provide for automatic punitive measures against the Syrian government if it fails to comply. Meanwhile, the implementation of the resolution passed over Syria has begun with the UN informing that its weapons inspectors in Syria have commenced their investigations at a total of seven sites where chemical weapons were allegedly used, including three incidents after the 21st August 2013 attack on Syrian civilians. Though all the parties involved have reached a consensus on dispersing the war clouds that had gathered over the Middle East, the sharp differences of opinions and perception between the two camps continue to remain.
(to be continued...)