Hopes for Syria: Work to rid the country of chemical arms continues

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There is no reason to believe that the drama of the Syrian civil war is over, but some positive developments are underway in that troubled land and its relations with the rest of the world.

Let's review the bad parts first. In terms of human misery there are as many as 2 million Syrian refugees trying to get by in neighboring countries -- Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, even Iraq. They are overtaxing the countries' resources and those of the international community. Uncountable thousands also are displaced inside Syria and in physical danger.

The fighting itself is by no means over. It would seem that Bashar Assad's government forces are doing better, with more territory under their control. Important pieces of the country still remain in the hands of the opposition rebels, who are increasingly divided among themselves based in part on the degree of their Islamic fervor and the willingness of external parties -- the Saudi Arabians, the Persian Gulf states and the West, including the United States -- to back them financially and with weapons.

Even though no one in Syria has used chemical weapons since Aug. 21, the degree of cruelty on both sides that characterizes the fighting correctly raises the question of whether a successor government to Mr. Assad would be any better. The armed opposition is divided into hundreds of different groups, some of them linked to al-Qaida. There is also fighting among the rebel organizations.

On the positive side, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has 60 inspectors in Syria, who are apparently getting the cooperation of the Syrian government. They have examined more than half of the 20 or so sites the government has identified as chemical weapon stockpiles with sarin, VX and mustard gas, and have found, so far, the government's revelations of its holdings to have been accurate. The OPCW is on schedule to destroy all of Syria's chemical arms by June 30 of next year.

Equally important, the Syrian government, under Russian prodding, and some of the more responsible rebel bodies have agreed to meet in Geneva in November to discuss the country's problems.

Although this conflict is by no means going away, there is movement in the right direction for the United States, Russia and other interested parties to help along.


First Published October 18, 2013 8:00 PM


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