It’s time for Syria to act on its promise to destroy its chemical weapons arsenal. When the threat of punitive military strike hung over the regime of Bashar Al Assad, over its alleged use of chemical weapons against its own people, Assad and his friends in Moscow had hatched the idea of surrendering its chemical arsenal to escape an attack. Despite severe doubts by experts and leaders about the true designs of the Assad regime, US President Barack Obama had agreed to that plan, out of his own eagerness to avoid getting mired in another Middle East conflict.
Now the governing council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the world’s chemical weapons watchdog, has drawn up a timetable for Damascus to get rid of its deadly arsenal. According to the plan, the regime will have to destroy all its chemical weapons production facilities by the beginning of November and completely dismantle its entire arsenal of poison gases and nerve agents by the middle of next year.
The Security Council was due to meet late yesterday to vote on a resolution that would make the OPCW legally binding on Bashar Al Assad’s regime. But this resolution is unlikely to force Assad into full compliance. A compromise deal between Russia and the west clinched on Thursday says that the resolution does not include automatic punitive measures against the Syrian government if it fails to comply. Such measures would require a second resolution and at that time Moscow is likely to behave as expected.
The OPCW has drawn up a tight schedule for the destruction of chemical weapons. That means the Assad regime will have to start its work now. An official of the agency said the idea was to eliminate the development and production capacities at the earliest possible moment.
At the same time the UN weapons inspectors are in Syria and are investigating a total of seven sites where chemical weapons were allegedly used, including three that took place after the August 21 attack. The biggest question is what if Syria is caught cheating or delays the process, which is most likely to happen given Assad’s previous record. That will prove another test for Obama. Knowing Washington’s reluctance to involve itself militarily, Assad will be in no mood to surrender under international pressure.
If it happens, Assad’s non-compliance with his promise to dismantle chemical weapons will mark a dangerous turning point in the Syrian revolution. That would mean another victory for Assad, and major setback for the opposition and the international community. It’s unfortunate that the revolution is caught in a dark tunnel. The opposition is completely lost, and there is no credible help coming their way•