There is a long journey ahead to audit and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons program, analysts agree, and there are many concerns and inevitable delays in the days and weeks ahead. Yet the international community is closer than it has ever been to eradicating one of the world’s largest arsenals. And the diplomatic solution gave the U.S. a constructive alternative to military action.
The diplomacy of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during the most critical moment of the Syrian crisis marked something of a first: The two countries worked together to prevent the escalation of a major international crisis.
It is a signal moment in bilateral relations, however the next several months of inspections in Syria unfold. Even American political observers are cautiously optimistic that the agreement, now backed by a U.N. Security Council resolution, will bear fruit.
Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger said in an interview that “There could be quite a good outcome, because if we get the chemical weapons, if this then becomes a basis for a transition in Syria that leads to relative peace, then at the end of the day, however torturously we arrive at this conclusion, it will have served the interests of the world,” he told CBS News.
Advocates of better U.S.- Russia relations are also pondering whether this period of intense and very public negotiations will change the dynamic between Washington and Moscow.
“The Kerry-Lavrov agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons is important in two respects – as the first clear U.S.-Russia cooperation on Syria, which has been a very divisive issue, and also as a source of positive momentum in a bilateral relationship that has been deteriorating for most of the last two years,” said Paul Saunders, executive director for the Center for the National Interest in Washington, D.C.
“I think indeed one has to say that time will tell whether this will effort could improve bilateral relations,” John Evans, longtime Russia analyst and U.S. Ambassador to Armenia (2004-2006), told RBTH.
“We already cooperate in a number of ways… If this framework produces a positive result it will lead to a more productive relationship between Russia and the U.S. – which the world needs.”
Evans acknowledged that some observers are skeptical that the current round of diplomacy will end well. “Russia has insisted that chemical weapons have also been used by rebels,” he noted. “We need to see evidence of that.”
Some conservatives on Capitol Hill have labeled the agreement a Moscow-orchestrated public relations campaign, designed not to avert a unilateral strike as much as to undermine U.S. influence in the region. U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) issued a statement: “Assad will use the months and months afforded to him to delay and deceive the world.”
Sources close to the Russian government said that the idea of joint Russian-American cooperation in dismantling Syrian WMD stockpiles had been floated for months privately before President Vladimir Putin went public. U.S. officials said the two presidents first discussed Syria’s chemical stockpile at a summit in Mexico in 2012, and again on the sidelines of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg.
Even if the U.S.-Russia partnership on Syrian weapons succeeds, irritants in relationship will still exist.
“If it works reasonably well, the U.S.-Russia framework can certainly have a positive effect on the bilateral relationship. But there will be challenges,” said Robert Nurick, senior fellow of transatlantic security at The Atlantic Council.
“First of all, the CW process will be complex and demanding, and even under the best of circumstances can be expected to produce glitches and complications that the two sides will need to manage. Secondly, the agreement will not address other difficult issues in the relationship – such as domestic trends in Russia, and Russia’s policies toward its near neighbors – that have important constituencies in Washington and are neuralgic for the Kremlin.”