London, Thursday 12 September 2013
- Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State Kerry are today commencing their critical talks in Geneva. The issue on the table will be the Russian proposal on Syrian chemical weapons. However, Russian/U.S. cooperation needs to go beyond the chemical weapons issue. The aim has to be to come up with a joint plan for convening the Geneva II peace talks, bringing all the parties to the conflict and their supporters to the negotiating table.
An agreement in Geneva this week on the Russian proposal for Syria’s chemical weapons to be declared, verified, stockpiled and destroyed would be a welcome first step towards a diplomatic solution that would forestall a U.S. military strike.
However, an agreement on chemical weapons, difficult as that will be to achieve, can only be a starting point. Over 100,000 people have been killed by conventional weapons. Given the superiority of President Assad’s forces in conventional weapons, the removal of the regime’s chemical weapons, would do nothing to stop the civil war. Addressing the civil war and avoiding and all out regional war is the true key, putting real premium on a Geneva II.
“The ultimate aim of going down the diplomatic route via an agreement on chemical weapons is: to negotiate a ceasefire, stop the flow of weapons into Syria and find a peaceful settlement at the planned Geneva II peace talks to end the Syrian crisis with resulting stability in the region”, says Gabrielle Rifkind, Director of Oxford Research Group’s (ORG) Middle East Programme, who has deep insight into the diplomatic process and has collaborated with Russian FM Lavrov’s advisors.
She adds: “The signing of the Chemical Weapons Convention by Assad and an agreement on destroying his chemical weapons stocks can only be a mechanism – a first step in Russian-U.S. cooperation on Syria. Such collaboration is an essential means to convening the Geneva II peace process to end the Syrian civil war.”
In order to reach a political settlement at Geneva II, close diplomatic engagement would be needed: on a global level between Russia and the U.S., and on a regional level, the real players are now Iran and Saudi Arabia. Such a Geneva II discussion would finally bring all parties together. The Geneva process has stalled partly because of disagreement between the big powers.
“It is excellent news that Secretary Kerry will meet the U.S./Arab League Syria Envoy, Dr Lakhdar Brahimi, while he is in Geneva. It is essential that wider political context is also on the agenda, if there is ever to be an end to the war in Syria”, Gabrielle Rifkind says.