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Light can be seen at end of Syrian crisis tunnel

September 10, 2013, 13:25 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara

MOSCOW, September 10 (Itar-Tass) - Russia’s initiative to ask Syria to place its chemical weapons depots under international control gives Damascus a chance to avoid air strikes by the United States and its allies.

On Monday evening US President Barack Obama told the leading US television networks in an interview he regarded Russia’s idea as a potential breakthrough. Obama said that he was still unaware of the details of Moscow’s latest initiatives which Damascus had supported, but in case of its acceptable implementation he would be prepared to take a pause in his plans for attacking military facilities in that Arab country.

The devil is in the details, the saying goes. What details may hinder the establishment of international control of Syria’s chemical weapons?

A leading expert on disarmament affairs, Colonel-General Viktor Yesin, retired, who once was at the head of Russia’s strategic missile force staff, has told Itar-Tass in an interview the chance of putting Syrian chemical weapons under Syrian control was fifty-fifty.

The expert believes that the Syrian president has been “cornered and he cannot ignore this proposal from Russia - its sole influential ally.” On the other hand, he is afraid of losing his sole potential weapon against the potential aggressors - the United States and Turkey - the risk of war gases being used against them or their ally Israel,” Yesin said.

“If only Bashar Assad had guarantees that he would retain power or, at least, his life, that would help resolve the problem. But nobody will ever give such guarantees to the Syrian president, Yesin said.

He is certain that the decision to place Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles under control may be easily made by resuming the Geneva-2 international conference, in which Syria’s delegation would participate.

“It remains to be seen what conditions the powers that be will put forward,” he said.

The chief of the International Security Centre at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Alexey Arbatov, told Itar-Tass in an interview the Russian initiative to establish control of and eventually eliminate chemical weapons in Syria is realistic, but very hard to implement.

“Firstly, a special body must be established at the United Nations for addressing this task. Secondly, Syria would have to put its signature to the international convention banning the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons and requiring its elimination. This process will take time. Then the special body in the Hague responsible for controlling the enforcement of this convention will have to dispatch its inspectors to Syria. Their task will be to see on sight the amounts of chemical weapons, the conditions in which they are kept and means of transportation. In the context of civil war this will be very hard to achieve, and the latest attack on UN experts in Syria was a fresh confirmation of that,” the analyst said.

Arbatov believes that even if the United States, Russia and Damascus achieve specific agreement to implement this initiative, this circumstance will lend legitimacy to the Bashar Assad regime. Otherwise who would be responsible for enforcing the convention and running the whole process?

“But the question of Bashar Assad’s legitimacy may prove the stumbling block on the way of resolving the Syrian crisis under the scenario Moscow has proposed. Washington sees Assad as a criminal, and it will leave no hope for him he would retain power under any circumstance.”

Also, Arbatov said that Syria has huge chemical weapons stockpiles - up to 1,000 tonnes at three facilities.” These stockpiles must be taken out of Syria and eliminated. “But who will volunteer to do the job?” Arbatov asked. “Russia’s chemical weapons elimination facilities are too busy with doing away with domestic arsenals. Russia is obliged to meet the deadlines under the Convention. Besides, “transporting chemical weapons from Syria by train or by tanker is extremely risky. They may well come under attack by the armed Opposition. Escapes of sarin may follow to bring about catastrophic consequences.”

Arbatov sees only one chance of resolving the problem of Syria’s chemical weapons and warding off the threat they may ever be used - a ceasefire in Syria between the supporters of Assad and the Opposition and the United States’ decision against dealing air strikes.