14 Sep 2013

Extraordinary ‘deal’ announced over Syria

The Russia/US framework deal is an extraordinary turn of events. The Mediterranean is piled high with military hardware that right now looks unlikely to be used.

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The Financial Times has a superbly authoritative chronology of how we got here, confirming that President Obama and President Putin did talk about the chemical weapons decommissioning plan at the G20 a week ago but also supporting the idea that Secretary Kerry blurted out the plan at London’s Foreign Office on Monday a little prematurely.

Diplomatic moves like this are normally slowly planned and slowly developed.

There has rarely been such a high-level diplomatic initiative with as little ground-work as this one. If it flies there will be a new chapter in the diplomacy textbooks on how sometimes, in the right circumstances, “good” or useful ideas can come from “bad” places (ie Russia) and can be cobbled together at breakneck speed.

If it fails, because of Saddam-style procrastination, foot-dragging and bad faith, that’ll spawn a different text-book chapter along the lines of “what did you expect if you broke all the normal rules about slow ground-work?” and “what did you expect from Russia?”

Earlier this week, I asked a very senior MOD source what the initial Defence Intelligence assessment suggested was a realistic duration for decommissioning Syria’s chemical weapons and was told it would take “several years.” The framework agreement talks about destroying the stocks by mid-2014.

Hard to see how the US could sign up to a timetable that was more relaxed than this. Hard to see also though how it can be met.

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