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Le Figaro, France

Russian Diversionary Tactic or Way out of the Crisis?

By Laure Mandeville

Translated By Clare Durif

9 September 2013

Edited by Brent Landon

France - Le Figaro - Original Article (French)

In a dramatic turn of events, the Russians have just pulled an initiative out of their diplomatic hat which is aimed at stopping the possible American strikes on Syria. They are calling for Syria’s stock of chemical weapons to be placed under international control so that they can then be destroyed under external supervision, specifying moreover that Damascus must join the international Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. The proposal was announced by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and immediately welcomed by the Syrian government. Is it simply a Russian diversionary tactic, aimed at stirring up trouble and raising doubts among the members of Congress, at a time when they are weighing up the pros and cons of the limited military action demanded by Obama? Or have the Russians decided to force the hand of their Syrian ally, in the hope of being seen as a “savior” and mediator? Are they in the process of creating an escape route for an America which does not want a new intervention, even if it is flaunting it?

Having had their fingers burnt by the Russian game over Syria, which until now has stood out by its total cynicism, the Americans remain very cautious even as they reacted positively to Moscow’s proposal. The presidential adviser Ben Rhodes announced that the White House would pay the greatest attention to this proposal but would also remain very suspicious considering Moscow’s bias for Assad’s regime. “We're highly skeptical of the credibility of the Syrian regime,” noted the president’s spokesman Jay Carney regarding its willingness to allow U.N. inspectors to examine its chemical weapons stockpile, however. “But this is a very early stage,” he added. Presidential adviser Ben Rhodes, for his part, affirmed, “I think that we will just have to follow up with them,” specifying, however, that “what we don’t want to have is another stalling exercise where the Syrians don’t follow through on commitments.”

Rhodes added that this proposal would not prevent the administration from submitting its request for military action to Congress, letting it be understood that the two actions would be mutually reinforced. But it was the first time that a possible alternative scenario to the strikes was taking shape. It would have the advantage of providing Obama, who has been under strong pressure to abandon military intervention, with an honorable way out, as he could talk up the effectiveness of threatening to use force. As for Russia, it would be an opportunity to restore its reputation, tarnished by its role of stalling all action in Syria by the Security Council for two years.

Hillary Clinton, who on Monday talked publicly about Syria for the first time since leaving the State Department, spoke of the Russian proposal as “an important step.” But, she warned, “This cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction.”

The Russians have captured the anti-interventionist mood which hangs over Congress. Their proposal comes just as two Democrat senators — Joe Manchin from West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp from North Dakota — have concocted a resolution which calls for giving Bashar al-Assad 45 days to become a signatory of the international Chemical Weapons Convention and which insists that Obama wait 45 days before any potential strike.



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