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Diplomacy in Syria? Looks Like It. Peace Pact? Not So Fast

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Diplomacy instead of bombs may get rid of Syria's chemical weapons but an end to the bloody civil war that has left more than 100,000 dead is not even close.

U.N. inspectors issued their first significant report that chemical weapons were used in Syria but would not say who launched the toxic sarin gas attacks on August 21 that left some 1,400 people, including children, wrapped in shrouds.

The United States, France and Britain said the evidence pointed to the Damascus government while Russia said allegations that the opposition fired on itself in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus it controls should not be lightly dismissed. "We need not jump to any conclusions," said U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

Still, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the new report was "the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians" since then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein used them against the Kurds in Halabja in 1988. "The international community has pledged to prevent any such horror from recurring, yet it has happened again."

War crime
"The report makes for chilling reading," Ban told reporters. "This is a war crime."

France, for months, has been declaring that sarin was used in other areas, albeit in smaller amounts. Britain came to the same conclusion but the United States at first hesitated, despite anti-American conspiracy theories that it was sending heavy weapons to the opposition.

The U.N. inspection report said that "chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale."

While the investigators were not authorized to say who conducted the attack, their 41-page report gave details of munitions and rockets, including an M14 artillery rocket bearing Cyrillic markings.

These findings bolstered the research by the United States, Britain and France as well as a previous investigation by Human Rights Watch that pointed to responsibility by the Syrian government.

"Technical details of the U.N. report make clear that only the regime could have carried out this large-scale chemical weapons attack," U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told reporters. "And it is important to note that the regime possesses sarin, and we have no evidence that the opposition possesses sarin."

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, in a similar observation, said:

"The type of munitions, the trajectories, which confirmed the analysis that British experts have done about the provenance of where the rockets were fired from. All of that confirms, in our view, that there is no remaining doubt that it was the regime that used chemical weapons."

And on Tuesday, Human Rights Watch wrote that the information in the U.N. report showed that flight paths of rockets "converge on a well-known military base of the Republic Guard 104th Brigade."

Augean Task
The next step is to get inspectors to start the Augean task of discovering and disposing of the chemical weapons. Then there is supposed to be a Security Council resolution that would cement the agreement between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to rid Syria of the chemical arms.

But which inspectors would go into Syria in the middle of a war, how the sites would be secured and how the dangerous toxins would be removed are serious questions, still unclear. Yet Russia, as well as the United States, has a stake in making this work.

On a Security Council resolution, the United States, Britain and France have insisted that the document had to use Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter which makes any action mandatory and allows enforcement measures, like sanctions, even if the use of warfare is excluded. Russia's Ambassador Churkin refused to commit himself publicly on an immediate resolution, saying one should not waste time.

Whither Russia?
Russia, a major arms supplier to Damascus, and China have veto power in the 15-nation U.N. Security Council and have refused to allow any resolution to be adopted on Syria, whether on the humanitarian crisis or chemical arms inspections.

Russia since the 1999 US-led NATO bombing of Kosovo without Security Council permission has been wary of any resolution that could be used to justify force. The Bush administration then invaded Iraq in 2003, without a resolution and opposition from at least seven Council nations. After that came Libya. Russia did not block action in the Council and then claimed the US-led coalition went too far, even though the wording of the resolution allowed all kinds of military force against the goverment.

China, which often backs Russia (and vice versa at the United Nations) also opposes any international action that would interfere with a country's internal affairs, especially when human rights are violated. The U.N. Charter, written on the ashes of World War II, upholds the sovereignty of states but also speaks of protecting "fundamental human rights."

In the Middle East, Russia prefers "the devil we know" and sees the dictators as fostering stability (until they don't ) In Syria, Russia is also concerned with the fate of Christians, particularly Orthodox Christians, and fears the spread of Jihadists.

Tired of being criticized on human rights, especially in Congress, Russian President Vladimir Putin lectured back in an op ed in the New York Times. (How do you say chutzpah in Russian?)

How the war started also has two tales. Syria and its allies say foreign fighters drifted in to battle the leadership, although there was little evidence of that then but there is now. The ruling Assad kleptocracy that has run Syria did what it usually does -- shoot first and ask questions later.

Peace Conference
Nevertheless a peace conference which Kerry and Lavrov and the United Nations want to begin organizing next month is fraught with difficulties. Who would represent the hundreds of opposition groups? And on the regime side, Western nations want security and military personnel to sit at the table if a cease-fire ever comes about.

Sorting out the hundreds if not 1,000 opposition factions, from al Qaeda affiliated groups to moderates will not be easy. No doubt many of the rebels are vile and guilty of atrocities but the many legitimate human rights reports, from the United Nations and elsewhere, point to a larger number of gross abuses by government forces and cruel allied militia.

Another major problem, pointed out by columnist Thomas Friedman, is that in Syria there is no Nelson Mandela to rally and organize the factions and will probably need an "external midwife." Likewise, Al Qaeda-linked Islamist militias have gained strength because they receive funding and weapons from Gulf countries, while, Washington has provided few arms to moderate rebels.

What now?
So something must be done though few agree on what. U.S., British and French military intervention, with U.N. approval, rescued Sierra Leone, Bosnia, Mali and the Ivory Coast from mass atrocities.

Now, not just the American people, but many around the world are suffering from Iraq fatigue, the lies told for the 2003 intervention and the present miserable state of the country.

As a human rights ideologue, I hate war. But someone's boots may have to be on the ground to pacify the country and prevent more atrocities.

The new U.N. General Assembly President from Antigua and Barbuda, John Ashe, told reporters that, unlike decades ago, abuses can't be hidden for long given the speed of news."It is far more difficult now to commit atrocities without anyone knowing what is going on."