The rare meeting between U.S. Secretary of John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov Thursday and Friday comes at the end of a dramatic week of diplomatic dances between the two world powers. But it is imperative that the two work together for the good of the Syrian people, and not to pursue personal or political glory.
That the Syrian government has agreed, ostensibly, to rescind control of its chemical weapons supplies is a positive step, at first glance. But opposition allies – including the U.S., Turkey and the U.K, as well as the rebels themselves – are right to be skeptical. Even in times of peace, such a disarmament operation would take years. It would also require the deployment of possibly hundreds of weapons inspectors and personnel on the ground. When the small team of chemical weapons inspectors visited Damascus late last month neither the rebels or the regime could guarantee their safety, and their convoy was targeted by sniper fire.
All week, different parties have been variously claiming this development as their own achievement. But chemical weapons should not be used as a symbol, a mark of strategic success on the global stage. Egos must not get in the way of saving lives, as has too often been the case over the last two-and-a-half years of war.
This opportunity, after months of dead-end negotiations and stalling by each side, perhaps represents a genuine chance to move toward peace. But that can only happen if U.S.-Russian talks on chemical weapons are allowed to become broader, to cover the path toward a cease-fire and wider plans for the future of Syria. A discussion on the dire situation facing millions of refugees, and internal destruction inside the country, is also necessary, in tandem with talks on chemical weapons.
Without these aspects, and even if Assad’s entire chemical arms stock is located and destroyed, the killing will continue unabated, and the lives of Syrian inside and outside of the country will continue to crumble.
Kerry and Lavrov should also tackle the knock-on effects of Syria’s war on its neighbors, for the instability prevalent in the region has already been revealed in Lebanon. Russia and the U.S. must not be left to deal with these issues alone. An international effort must be made to push through a peace plan for Syria, preferably backed by a Security Council Resolution.
Short of that, the meeting over chemical weapons will be meaningless, and will be nothing more than yet another U.S.-Russian tug of war for global supremacy.
If carried out in a genuine, thoughtful way, these talks appear to offer a glimmer of hope. But they must be held with the aspirations of the Syrian people in mind, not the egos of the politicians holding them. After over two years of war, Syrians deserve a return to some semblance of normality, of a life not lived in constant fear. Talks which do not address these people will be nothing more than a publicity stunt.