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Russia and US have chances to achieve breakthrough in Syrian settlement crisis

September 11, 2013, 17:51 UTC+3 Zamyatina Tamara

MOSCOW, September 11 (Itar-Tass) - On the eve of a meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry, due in Geneva on Thursday, devoted to ways of establishing international control over Syrian chemical weapons the director of the Institute of US and Canada Studies, Sergei Rogov, told ITAR-TASS in an interview the chances of success looked fifty-fifty to him. “The Lavrov-Kerry rendezvous may bring about a breakthrough in settling the Syrian crisis, or it may fail,” the analyst said.

The Russian initiative for establishing international control over chemical weapons stockpiles in Syria implies a specific technical plan for its implementation. Rogov recalled that Syria was not a signatory to the chemical weapons ban convention. “According to various estimates, Syria has in stock up to one thousand tonnes of war gases, alongside makeshift weapons Bashar Assad’s opponents are making these days. Those weapons are kept at several bases,” Rogov said.

“In order to put the facilities under control it is necessary to establish an organization to enforce the Convention’s requirements. Russia and the United States both are eliminating national chemical weapons stockpiles on their own. Under the Nunn-Lugar program the United States was helping Russia to do away with this weapon of mass destruction. There are no chemical weapons disposal facilities in Syria. So it is up to Russian and US specialists to put Syrian chemical warfare agents under control, because the United Nations’ "blue helmets” do not have such experience. Besides, the presence of United Nations forces in Syria in the context of ongoing hostilities would be utterly ineffective,” the specialist said.

“If Russia and the United States manage to cooperate on the problem of Syrian chemical weapons and if Damascus agrees to putting its stockpiles of war gases under control, that would spell a major breakthrough in bilateral and international relations. That agreement might give an impetus to resuming cooperation by Russia and the United States over Afghanistan, Iran, the missile defence and nuclear disarmament,” Rogov believes.

“Trying to remove chemical weapons from Syria by ground transport while the civil war is on would be unrealistic, and the task of airlifting them is rather complicated. The chemical weapons stockpiles must be put under protection and guarded well. As for their elimination, it may be decided only in several years time. Specific dates are not so important.”

Rogov described the Russian initiative as “an event that would have lasting effects.” The analyst recalled that Russian-US relations worsened of late. The presidential summit in Moscow was upset and propaganda rhetoric gained the upper hand. “Therefore the Russian initiative for establishing international control of chemical warfare agents in Syria might not only play a positive role not just for Damascus, but become a turning point for the resumption of relations of partnership between Russia and the United States and change the international situation for the better in general.

Rogov recalled that the question of Russian-US cooperation regarding chemical weapons in Syria surfaced back last spring, but it was not discussed in detail then.

“Last August Barack Obama succumbed to pressures from the conservative wing of the Republicans to make a decision in favour of a military operation in Syria. But, according to the United States’ 40-year-old law, to be able to start combat operations for a period of more than 60 days the president is to have support from the US Congress. Quite unexpectedly Obama discovered that he would surely not have the majority’s support either in the House of Representatives or in the Senate. The liberally minded Democrats, most of the Republicans and even Obama’s own wife, Michelle, opposed the war, which the president publicly acknowledged himself,” the analyst recalled.

“In the American establishment neo-isolationist sentiment began to gain the upper hand. What is the reason for fighting for somebody else’s interests? many were asking,” Rogov said. “In a situation like that the United States jumped at the Russian proposal. If Syrian weapons are placed under international control, the scenario of dealing air strikes against Syria will become utterly irrelevant.”

“Forty years ago the United States had the Vietnam syndrome. Now there has developed the Iraqi-Afghan syndrome. Most of the Americans do not wish their country to go to war again,” Rogov concluded.