A week that started with a march toward war, that melted in the heat of U.S. politics, that morphed into high-level diplomacy, ended with a U.S.-Russian deal to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.
On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave a joint statement announcing the deal. The bottom line: President Bashar al Assad must declare his chemical inventory within a week, allow inspectors “immediate, unfettered access” to all sites, then allow for all chemical weapons to be destroyed and/or removed from the country. This would all have to be done by the middle of 2014 – an admittedly ambitious goal.
Seasoned Syria watchers, along with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, are skeptical that the Assad regime will cooperate completely or hand over its arsenal in full. U.S. President Barack Obama held up the threat of force as a potential penalty.
“If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act…the international community expects the Assad regime to live up to its public commitments,” he said. Reuters reports that U.S. military forces were still positioned to strike. But in reality, the threat of a U.S. strike on Syria is indefinitely on hold.
Syria’s opposition rejected the deal. On Twitter, Salman Shaikhof the Brooking Doha Center predicted it would lead to the intensification of the conflict in Syria, killing thousands more. On Saturday, the activist Local Coordination Committees recorded 106 deaths in one day of fighting, as government warplanes bombed the suburbs of Damascus.
In a Skype interview from the rebel-held areas of Aleppo, one member of the Local Council said residents feel betrayed by the international community, their deaths and day-to-day struggles largely ignored. Every Friday protesters choose a theme for their protests, a motto to mark each passing week of the Syrian revolution. The motto they chose this week: “The Killer of the Syrian People is the International Community.”
Increasingly, the world is feeling the effects of a humanitarian crisis that’s left unabated. Syria’s refugees are now spilling over into Europe, thousands washing onto Italy’s southern shores by the boatload.