Lavrov-Kerry Agreement on Syria-Now What? | Charles Duelfer

Lavrov-Kerry Agreement on Syria-Now What?

Sometimes things work out. This may be one of those occasions. It appears the US has agreed with the general Lavrov proposition that an arrangement similar to what was imposed upon Saddam in the 1990’s be applied to Syria. This is a good thing. It can work and if it does not, it will be apparent quickly.

The agreement as issued today by the US State Department describes a hybrid arrangement making use of the existing secretariat and technical staff created for the Chemical Weapons Convention in the Hague, supplemented by additional measures. The role of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Executive Committee in directing the inspections is not precise. Moreover, it would seem that what is still missing is a chairman for the Syrian disarmament case.

The rough mechanism follows a well understood (at least by alumni of the Iraq disarmament experience and the OPCW technical group) process whereby the weapons inspectors verify what Syria declares. The burden of proof, security, access to sites, access to information, all the heavy lifting, is on Syria. The inspectors direct, supervise, and evaluate the process, providing reports to the UN Security Council.

The next key step is to select a leader of the UN team. This is a job that is both technical but also requires political/diplomatic skills. It has to be someone trusted by a range of participants. Usually, an ambassador or senior official from a country viewed as neutral in the circumstances is picked. In this case, the Norwegian Ambassador to the UN, Geir Pedersen could be a good choice.

The Norwegian Foreign Ministry created and extensive manual on how to create and implement a weapons inspection regime–drawing upon the experiences of a broad range of former weapons inspectors and diplomats. They are a major contributor to the UN and have experience in disarmament matters. Ambassador Pedersen knows this and the UN system in New York.

Whoever is selected will have to act fast, assembling a team of experts and, critically, establishing the procedures and modalities to be implemented on the ground in Syria. They need to have clear rights of immediate access to information, sites, people, etc. They must have the full and rapid support of Syria. My guess is a team of perhaps 50 may be needed between inspectors on the ground and support staff. It looks like the OPCW technical group is geared up and can provide the bulk of expertise needed.

On the Syrian side, they need to appoint a counterpart who will be cooperative and authoritative in dealing with the inspectors. It needs to be someone who can make and implement decisions in response to the UN inspectors requests. This, too, is critical. At some level, there either will be trust or not between the head of the UN team and the Syrian counterpart. On the ground, there are inevitably problems of implementation. They have to be worked out on the ground. The Syrians and UN inspectors have to be able to do this without going back to the UN Security Council regularly. If they can’t, the agreement will not work.

So far, what is presented about the Lavrov-Kerry agreement seems feasible. In any case, there will be very early indicators if it is going to work. Be prepared for problems along the way, but accounting for Syrian CW by this process stands a good chance of being more effective in meeting President Obama’s goals for a military strike, i.e. to deter and degrade Syrian CW capacity.

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