Defusing Syria: The deal on chemical arms is a diplomatic coup

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An agreement among the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and the Syrian government is another step leading the United States and the world away from greater involvement in the war in Syria, which was at risk due to the use of chemical weapons there.

America is no longer threatening to carry out an attack, which could have endangered regional and even world peace. There is, however, no question that President Barack Obama's threat of such an attack, to the point of seeking congressional approval for one, was a catalyst in prompting Russia, the Bashar Assad regime in Damascus and other parties to seek a negotiated resolution of the chemical weapons issue. Even though the Security Council resolution does not provide explicitly for measures against Syria if it does not live up to its part of the bargain, it is clear that the U.S. threat of military action remains in the background, if the process goes wrong.

Syria is so far showing good faith in carrying out its end of the deal. It has already provided information on its stockpile of chemical weapons and their location. What it has disclosed is apparently not at variance with information that U.S. and other intelligence-gathering bodies already had on Syria's weapons stash.

Hopes that reasonable behavior in resolving the chemical weapons problem would flow into negotiations in Geneva on a more general peace in Syria suffered a setback this week as the rebels fragmented further. Militant Islamist elements broke off from what they consider to be the too tame National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, which is based in Turkey, and the Free Syrian Army and established a new front, centered on the more radical Al Nusra and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria organizations. In that way, these elements sharply disowned the leadership of the moderates.

At some point it will be necessary to conclude that the Syrian opposition is too divided to sit credibly across the negotiating table from Syrian government representatives. That would also draw the curtain down on the idea that the necessary participation of Iran in such a meeting could contribute to useful negotiations with it about its nuclear program, another important diplomatic goal.

In the short run Americans should be pleased that the chemical weapons issue is on its way to resolution and a U.S. attack on Syria has been overtaken by events. That is progress, and a diplomatic triumph.



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