MOSCOW — The timing of the Geneva 2 conference about the future of Syria’s chemical weapons has changed once again. According to our sources, it is probably not going to be mid-November — as Russia and the U.S. had first indicated — but rather at the end of that month, or maybe even in December. One of the key members of the Syrian opposition, the Syrian National Council, recently announced that it would not participate in the conference, although no explanation for the boycott has been provided.
The United States was given the task of convincing all of the important Syrian opposition groups to participate in the Geneva peace talks. After the Syrian National Council said it wouldn’t, Russian diplomats didn’t hesitate to accuse their American counterparts of being ineffective. “Our partners have assured us that all of the opposition would be brought together and would participate in the conference,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “My colleague John Kerry has once again said that they are actively working on it and will have results soon. But there are no results yet.”
Russia’s job was to bring the Syrian government to the conference. The foreign ministry says it has done its job and that the Syrian government would be ready for Geneva, even if the conference were to take place tomorrow.
Despite the delays, Moscow is hoping that the conference does happen, and a source at the foreign ministry says it should be as soon as possible. “We need to work out a political roadmap towards regularization of the situation in Syria,” explained the source from the foreign ministry. “Once we have agreed on a roadmap, we need to quickly drop everything else, come together and get rid of the terrorists that have already established themselves too much in Syria. There is still a chance to prevent them from taking control of the country.”
At the same time, the operation to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons continues. According to a Russian diplomatic source, experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) who have been to Syria say that it will not be possible to destroy the entire Syrian arsenal on Syrian territory. By the middle of this week the experts had seen 11 of the 20 Syrian chemical weapons’ sites that Damascus has declared. “The Syrian government has already agreed to allow a part of the chemical arsenal to be destroyed in another country,” the diplomat said.
But where to dismantle?
Russia has refused to allow destruction of Syrian chemical weapons on its territory. Now the U.S. is charged with finding a country that is willing to do the dirty work. The U.S. first looked to two of Syria’s neighbors, Turkey and Jordan. But neither was overjoyed at the idea, which carries a long list of risks, particularly environmental ones. “The economies of both of those countries are already feeling pressure from Syrian refugees,” explained Andrei Baklitskii, an expert from the Center for Policy Studies in Russia. “Neither the Jordanian king nor the Turkish prime minister has a reason to agree to bringing in chemical weapons, which would be very unpopular with the citizens.”
“Negotiations with Turkey and Jordan are ongoing,” insisted a source close to the U.S. State Department. “But we are also investigating other options.” The source refused to name other countries being considered.
According to Baklitskii, it’s quite unlikely that other governments in the region will be able to help. “Israel is not a member of OPCW, Lebanon is teetering on the brink of civil war, as is Libya, where an establishment for destroying chemical weapons has already been built,” he explained. “There is some information that the U.S. has informally approached a number of European countries, including Albania, Belgium, Norway and France. All of those countries, except Norway, have experience destroying chemical weapons, but there have not yet been any positive answers.”