A reason to hope
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US-Russia deal on Syria is a breakthrough. Now, renew efforts to end the civil war
The agreement between the US and Russia on the framework document for the disarming of Syria's chemical weapons is the most significant breakthrough yet in the Syrian civil war. While this diplomatic progress — worked out in Geneva by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry — will be construed as a Russian victory, the Obama administration must be congratulated for seeing the wisdom of putting its faith in diplomacy and a multilateral approach, holding off a military strike that would have made the humanitarian crisis in Syria much worse. Given Moscow's leverage over the regime in Damascus, a non-military solution to the problem was perhaps impossible without Russia's initiative.
The deal asks Syria to declare its stockpiles of chemical weapons within a week, calls for the completion of UN inspections and destruction of production equipment by November, and a complete elimination by mid-2014. This timeframe may be too ambitious. Syria has declared its intent to join the global Chemical Weapons Convention for which the UN has set an October 14 date, and the Geneva agreement provides for possible UN action if Assad fails to comply. But both Moscow and Washington know from experience that a process of this sort takes much longer — in fact, several years. Questions will remain on security for UN inspectors on the ground and Assad's grant of access to all depots and factories. Moreover, the Syrian rebels, who had been hoping for a US military strike against Assad, have rejected the deal reached in Geneva.