Syria cease-fire should ban chem­i­cal weapons

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - John Para­chini John V. Para­chini is a se­nior pol­icy an­a­lyst at the non-profit, non-par­ti­san RAND Cor­po­ra­tion and the di­rec­tor of RAND’s In­tel­li­gence Pol­icy Cen­ter.

The agree­ment Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov ne­go­ti­ated to sus­pend fight­ing in Syria and get sup­plies to trapped civil­ians is an im­por­tant break­through that could change the sit­u­a­tion in this war-torn coun­try. Over the next few days, as all par­ties im­ple­ment the seven-day cease-fire and peace ac­cord, the U.S. and Rus­sia should draw a new red line for­bid­ding the use of toxic chem­i­cals as weapons.

In the se­cond year of the con­flict in Syria, there were al­le­ga­tions of chem­i­cal weapons use. Pres­i­dent Obama stated that if Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad used these weapons, it would cross a “red line” and pro­voke mil­i­tary pu­n­ish­ment.

Ul­ti­mately, in­stead of bomb­ing Syria to smithereen­s with a highly un­cer­tain out­come, the U.S. worked with other na­tions to get the As­sad govern­ment to give up its chem­i­cal weapons and join the in­ter­na­tional treaty ban­ning their pro­duc­tion and use.

What is not widely known is that Amer­ica and Rus­sia had been dis­cussing what to do about Syria’s chem­i­cal weapons for months be­fore the con­fronta­tion. This col­lab­o­ra­tion proved crit­i­cal to the suc­cess­ful elim­i­na­tion of the As­sad regime’s chem­i­cal weapons arse­nal.

Putting aside fun­da­men­tal dif­fer­ences in other parts of the globe to ad­dress a huge hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis is a mod­est bright spot in what is likely to be one of the grimmest chap­ters of the early 21st cen­tury.

While vir­tu­ally all of As­sad’s mil­i­tary grade chem­i­cal weapons were elim­i­nated in 2014, it did not stop his mil­i­tary from us­ing bar­rel bombs filled with the in­dus­trial chem­i­cal chlo­rine. Late last month, a United Na­tions in­ves­tiga­tive panel con­cluded that the Syria mil­i­tary used chem­i­cal agents against its peo­ple de­liv­ered in bar­rel bombs at least eight times from April 2014 to Septem­ber 2015.

The U.N. re­port also points out that the Is­lamic State ter­ror­ist group and the Nusra Front might have re­sponded in kind with their own chem­i­cal weapons. Trag­i­cally, who­ever used them, the re­sults are con­sis­tently the same — civil­ians are hit with the in­dis­crim­i­nate and heinous weapons.

Kerry de­scribed as a “bedrock” el­e­ment of the ac­cord the re­stric­tions on Syr­ian com­bat air mis­sions. This will lessen the like­li­hood of the regime drop­ping chlo­rine-filled bar­rel bombs on Syr­i­ans caught in the cross­fire. Af­ter the deal was an­nounced, the Syr­ian mil­i­tary launched air at­tacks to ex­pand its ter­ri­to­rial gains be­fore the agree­ment went into ef­fect. But the clock is now run­ning. It be­gan on the first day of Eid al-Adha, a ma­jor Mus­lim hol­i­day that started Mon­day.

Im­ple­ment­ing the cease-fire will en­tail con­sid­er­able en­gage­ment of Amer­ica and Rus­sia with the key par­tic­i­pants in the re­gion. They should not miss an op­por­tu­nity to reg­u­larly and force­fully re­draw a red line on the use of toxic chem­i­cals as weapons.

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