In the dizzying debate over U.S. military intervention in Syria, one key point of consensus stands out: Both the Obama administration and Congress recognize that the resolution to Syria’s conflict must come through a negotiated settlement. Key international actors share the same conclusion.
But how do we get there? Russia’s recent proposal to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control could open a viable path to a long-sought diplomatic solution.
This initiative is a long shot. Yet, its potential payoff as a diplomatic breakthrough demands it be taken seriously. Not only would Syrian civilians be spared any unintended consequences of U.S. military intervention, but the Russian proposal’s successful implementation could be a real turning point.
The removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal would be a significant plus for the region and beyond. Moreover, using legal channels to redress the wanton use of chemical weapons against civilians would enhance global security and begin to restore the international norms egregiously violated in the August 21 attack. By relying on U.N. channels, the destruction of chemical weapons would also help restore confidence in the U.N., which has been essentially ineffective on Syria.
The Russian proposal could also move us toward a negotiated settlement. Washington could enlist Moscow’s cooperation for a “Geneva II” conference, bringing key protagonists in Syria’s conflict around the negotiating table. Washington and Moscow should set a specific conference date and use their influence to get everyone to the negotiating table.