The Syria debacle is particularly troublesome because it may impact how the administration deals with Syria’s patron and what inferences Iran’s rules draw from our conduct.
To recap on Syria, Bashar al-Assad will suffer no penalty (unless one considers giving up weapons he never should have had or used), remains in power, and has yet to even complete the negotiations, a violation which will only send the parties back to the United Nations Security Council. The Senate Republican Policy Committee put out a handy guide to what is and is not in the agreement, including this:
First and foremost, this is being implemented in what is described diplomatically as a “non-permissive environment.” It would be described more accurately as a war zone, meaning the monitors and implementers are constantly at risk, and security needs to be provided for them.
From there, it is the U.N. Security Council that is to draft the initial resolution governing the implementation of this agreement. Any violations are to be referred back to the Security Council. Russia, of course, possesses a veto in the Security Council, and has not been afraid to use it to protect Syria, having vetoed at least three Security Council Resolutions pertaining to Syria. Moreover, Russia still maintains it was opposition forces in Syria that actually used the chemical weapons there on August 21.
Furthermore, in terms of the initial declaration Syria is to make about its chemical weapons program, the State Department assesses that Russia has not made a complete declaration itself of its chemical weapons programs, as it was required to under the CWC.
Moreover, today we learn Syria has missed its first “deadline,” which turns out to be meaningless. The Associated Press reports:
The ambitious U.S.-Russian deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, hailed as a diplomatic breakthrough just days ago, hit its first delay Wednesday with indications that the Syrian government will not submit an inventory of its toxic stockpiles and facilities to international inspectors by this weekend’s deadline.
The State Department signaled that it would not insist that Syrian President Bashar Assad produce the list Saturday, the end of a seven-day period spelled out in the framework deal that Washington and Moscow announced last weekend in Geneva.
Syria doesn’t even pretend to comply and we don’t pretend to enforce the deal.
There was significant fear among a large, bipartisan group of lawmakers even before the Syria fiasco that Iran would try to use negotiations to block U.S. or Israeli action while moving swiftly forward with its nuclear weapons program. Now it seems a certainty.
This is why on August 5, 76 Senators joined in a letter to the White House, which read in part:
We need to understand quickly whether Tehran is at last ready to negotiate seriously. Iran needs to understand that the time for diplomacy is nearing its end. We implore you to demand immediate serious moves on Iran’s part. Iran should move quickly toward compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding it suspend enrichment. Iran must cease installing centrifuges, agree to the removal of 20 percent enriched uranium from Iran, and cease work on the heavy water reactor being built in Arak.
We believe there are four strategic elements necessary to achieve resolution of this issue: an explicit and continuing message that we will not allow Iran to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, a sincere demonstration of openness to negotiations, the maintenance and toughening of sanctions, and a convincing threat of the use of force that Iran will believe. We must be prepared to act, and Iran must see that we are prepared.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has talked about “containing” a nuclear-armed Iran, did not sign the letter. His office would not answer why he refused to sign.
At a time the administration is contemplating talks with Iran, it is even more urgent after President Obama’s at-best mixed message on Syria for the administration to agree to specific criteria for an Iranian deal and to determine as soon as possible whether Iran is serious. This need not and should not require a meeting between heads of state. And it should not be a negotiation about a negotiation.
It’s really a simple yes or no question: Will Iran suspend enrichment. cease installing centrifuges, agree to the removal of 20 percent enriched uranium from Iran, and cease work on the heavy water reactor being built in Arak without the precondition that sanctions be lifted?
If we don’t get an affirmative response and/or are not able to verify compliance, the administration has no choice but to acknowledge that negotiations are hopelessly deadlocked. And at that point the 76 senators and their colleagues should grant the president a resolution for use of force to be deployed at his discretion to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons capability. Frankly, this is the only way to prevent a Syrian-style debacle and to see whether a credible threat of force will be sufficient to prevent a nuclear-armed Islamic revolutionary state. This is not a red line the president can be allowed to erase.