Prospects of Geneva framework bleak

The Assad regime might argue that the proposed disarmament of Syria would lead only to the establishment of an Islamist rule with a highly anti-minorities agenda in the country.

Bashar Assad 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/SANA/Handout)
Bashar Assad 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/SANA/Handout)
The grand idea agreed upon by US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin since their recent G-20 summit in St. Petersburg is: a political solution to the current Syrian conflict. In order to translate it into reality, Washington and Moscow have suggested at their subsequent Geneva talks a framework envisaging that all Syrian chemical weapons be removed or destroyed by the middle of 2014. The Assad regime in Syria must provide within a week “names, types, and quantities of its chemical weapons agents, types of munitions, and location and form of storage, production and research and development facilities." The inspectors belonging to the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons ( OPCW), the United Nations and other supporting staff would  be arriving in Syria by November and provided with an unfettered right to inspect any site in the country.
One, however, doubts if the Geneva framework would take off. Knowledgeable sources say as per the US-Russia plan, Damascus has already  supplied an initial accounting of its arsenal to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) which will now be  examining details thereof and discussing how to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons. But there are still major constraints ahead for the plan to become reality. 
First, the Geneva framework demands both the Syrian regime and the opposition to be jointly responsible for the security of inspectors. Certain elements within the Opposition may not care. They have no faith in the Geneva framework and may go to any extent to seize the chemical weapons currently under the control of the Assad regime.
The lust of such elements for the chemical weapons can be discerned in what Qassim Saad al-Din, a spokesman for the Syrian opposition military command, has recently  told the London-based paper Asharq Al-Awsat. An analyst quotes him as saying that the Geneva compromise is aimed at “protecting Israel and disarming the arms threatening it.” The analyst adds that head of the Military Revolutionary Command in Aleppo Abed al Jabar al Akhidi has a similar view when he says “the international ploy to cancel the attack on Syria in return for the neutralization of chemical weapons is a dirty deal between Russia, Assad’s regime and the West… Neutralizing Assad’s chemical weapons serves Israel….”
Second, Syrian strongman Bashar Assad may have 'learned all lessons' from how once his Libyan counterpart Muamar Gaddafi was deposed by the West even after the latter gave up his WMDs voluntarily. He may seek to avoid the Libyan ‘folly’ and instead invent ways at cheating the international inspectors on the disclosure of his arsenal. The Syrian chemical weapons web is highly complex. There are about 42 storage facilities, some of which are located in battle zones. This gives Assad a lot of space to hide his weapons. There are already reports that the Assad regime has used certain tunnels to smuggle chemical weapons to Hezbollah. It adopted this modus operandi in order to avoid being spotted moving the weapons before the arrival of international inspectors. The regime has reportedly transferred some of these weapons to Iraq as well.
Third, the Assad regime might argue that the United States and close allies are not being fair to insist on  dismantling the Syrian  chemical weapons while they overlook those in the hands of the al-Qaida-affiliated groups in the country. Damascus alleges that in the ongoing Syrian crisis it is the rebels that have used chemical weapons. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have provided massive support to Syria’s extreme Sunni faction Jabhat al Nusra which has had links to al-Qaida. Yet the West has been backing the rebels with moral, material and military aid. The CIA has reportedly been delivering light machine guns and other small arms to the rebels and has allegedly arranged for them to receive anti-tank weaponry such as rocket-propelled grenades through one of the Gulf countries. In such a situation, the Assad regime might argue that the proposed disarmament of Syria would lead only to the establishment of an Islamist rule with a highly anti-minorities agenda in the country.
The Assad regime calculates that Moscow and Tehran would come to its rescue as Wahhabist-guided terrorists/politicians are a threat to them too. Moscow and Tehran would hence be strategically obliged not to let Damascus down if the United States and allies ever thought of a unilateral or multilateral military action against it under the pretext of destroying its chemical weapons.
And lastly, one is not sure how the UN envoys, who now have to draft a Security Council resolution enshrining the plan to neutralize the lethal weapons, would go about their business. US Secretary of State John Kerry is said to be for a "strong" UN Security Council resolution.” Washington thinks the Security Council can invoke the United Nations Chapter VII provisions that allow "action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security" in the event other measures fail to dismantle Syrian chemical weapons. But the Council's five permanent members -- the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain – are said to be still wrangling over the text of the resolution. Moscow  is of the opinion that Syria is a sovereign nation with the right to determine its own strategic imperatives, including self-defense. It cannot be penalized under the UN charter for what it does to defend its own unity and territorial integrity.  The author is a senior Indian journalist based in New Delhi.