Russian President Vladimir Putin’s op/ed in yesterday’s New York Times, titled “A Plea for Caution from Russia”, represents an unprecedented outreach to America, our President and the global community. As such this bold and cogent gesture on Putin’s part warrants an immediate receptive response from both President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry. At the very least we should welcome this offer in sincerity and in the hope that a positive breakthrough will emerge from good faith discussions between our two nations.
Quoting from Putin: “The United Nation’s founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter…The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially…far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike…could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-palestinian conflict…It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”
Addressing our President’s threat to launch a unilateral offensive against Syria in the absence of UN Security Council approval, Putin urges that “We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.” He warns that when the world’s major superpower unilaterally strikes out against another nation without obtaining Security Council clearance, then “The world reacts by asking: if you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction.”
I applaud Putin’s diplomacy in securing Syrian President Assad’s agreement to place his nation’s entire stock of chemical weapons, estimated at 10,000 tons, under international control for subsequent destruction, provided that the provisions are worked out through the United Nations and that the United States withdraw its threat to strike against Syria.
To be sure, it would be highly premature at this juncture to envision Presidents Putin, Obama and Assad sitting around the campfire singing Kum Ba Ya.
Indeed, at this point Putin’s proposal raises a number of serious concerns. For one thing, his repeated claims that the poison gas strikes against Syrian women, children and men were not perpetrated by the Syrian army but instead by the opposition, flies in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary. And to be sure, his demand that the United States unequivocally pledge to refrain from any retaliation against Syria is obviously unacceptable to both our President and Secretary of State.
While there are some key sticking points that will require delicate and complex negotiations between both nations, the stakes are too high for our nation to turn a deaf ear to what may hopefully turn out to be a truly positive, peace seeking gesture on the part of both Putin and Assad.
Today’s Daily Star contains a thought provoking editorial published on Bloomberg View titled “Obama must now mobilize the world against poison gas”. In essence the authors state that while the rest of the world certainly has legitimate reasons to oppose a US strike against Syria, there are no good arguments against mounting a strong international effort to destroy Syria’s chemical stockpiles. While doing so in the midst of a civil war would constitute an unprecedented challenge, success in this endeavor would bring the world a giant step close to eliminating these weapons of mass destruction.
This is, the authors submit, precisely the case that Obama should be making to the world. Rather than viewing the Putin/Assad initiative as a Russian gambit to be treated with suspicion – although astute due diligence is obviously required in any negotiations where the stakes are so high – the authors challenge our President to take the lead and broaden the conversation beyond the US and Russia, “to all those nations that support the ban on chemical weapons yet have opposed unilateral US action to enforce it”. Indeed, they implore Obama to orchestrate a strong international effort focusing on eliminating the threat of chemical weapons – placing the onus on Putin, Assad and China’s Xi Jinping to explain why, if they are sincere, they would object to stringent UN enforcement of the disarmament process.
I hope that our President has the decisiveness, tenacity and perseverance to heed this wise counsel and reestablish our nation’s rightful role as an indisputable champion of world peace.