Update, 2:51 p.m.: Latest word is that the United States will pursue a diplomatic track to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons through the United Nations. Meanwhile, a congressional resolution to authorize military action against Syria (should it pass) would give the green light to a U.S. strike if the UN efforts to disarm Syria fail. (A telling sign: Russia and France are already at odds on how binding the resolution should be.)
The AP is reporting that the Syrian Foreign Minister has announced that Syria “will declare its chemical weapons arsenal” and “sign chemical weapons convention.” This announcement was immediately countered by a statement by Secretary of State John Kerry demanding that Syria “live up to what they said just said they would do,” meaning work with the Russians to hand over their chemical weapons program to international monitors for dismantling.
The twist comes just hours before President Obama is set to address the nation to make his case for military action against the Assad regime for its alleged part in a chemical weapons attack last month. As we noted earlier, the Strike Syria fervor was tamped down a bit by yesterday’s surprise diplomatic episode in which it was suggested that Syria might hand over its chemical weapons and avoid an American strike. This latest announcement, which would represent an admission by Syria of a chemical weapons program as well as willingness to conform to international standards, would ordinarily be groundbreaking, but in the context of this crisis is not going to inspire much confidence.
A quick thought: One potentially positive upshot of all of this is that Israel, which has long been wary of Syria’s undeclared chemical weapons arsenal and its nuclear ambitions, does stand to gain from this. Having Assad’s chemical weapons program under international scrutiny or, should a deal bear improbable fruit, international control theoretically means any future prevarication by Assad would mean big trouble.