Securing a solution

Russia's proposal on Syria is the only diplomatic way out.

With a fluctuating conflict on the ground, a military strike on Syria, no matter how limited in scope, would likely have made a bad situation worse, destabilising a volatile region. US President Barack Obama's decision to postpone a Congressional vote on military intervention is, therefore, welcome. Notwithstanding the chemical weapons attack near Damascus last month, there doesn't appear to be any good option when it comes to picking sides in Syria. Bashar al-Assad's regime has massacred Syrian citizens. But the dominant rebels are affiliated to al-Qaeda.

Russia's proposal that Syria transfer its chemical weapons arsenal to international control, and eventually have it destroyed, appears to be the only hope for a diplomatic solution. Obama himself has chosen to try the option, and the fact that the Assad regime finally admitted on Tuesday to possessing chemical weapons is a sign of progress. The international community, including India, has supported the Russian proposal.

Of course, the plan will need to be worked out in practice. The US, UK and France want a strong UNSC resolution to accompany the proposal, threatening punitive action against Assad for failure to deliver. Russia wants the proposal to be non-binding and will not entertain a resolution against Assad. Monitoring unconventional weapons is difficult, as proved by North Korea or Iran. Syria is not a signatory to the chemical weapons convention. And there is no guarantee Assad would disclose all stockpiles. It would also be very difficult to provide security for UN inspectors of the storage depots in a conflict zone with large swathes of territory not fully in either side's control. Diplomats will be watching the Geneva meeting between John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Obama's private exchanges with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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