Syria cease-fire should ban chemical weapons
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.