Idriss added that Kerry had telephoned him and told him that the option of military strikes was “still on the table.” But the agreement makes that a long shot at best, saying it could happen only if authorized by the U.N. Security Council, where Russia has a veto.
Idriss said the whole effort was undeserving of support.
“Russia is a partner with the regime in killing the Syrian people,” Idriss said. “A crime against humanity has been committed and there is not any mention of accountability.”
A spinoff problem of the chemical weapons deal, opposition activists said, is that the regime will have months to continue attacking rebellious areas with conventional arms now that the U.S. and others have made it clear they don’t want to be sucked into the Syrian civil war.
By some estimates, if the regime continues its current counteroffensive, it could retake huge swaths of territory, especially in contested Homs province, by the time the deal foresees the complete elimination of Syria’s chemical capabilities. By that time, opposition figures lament, U.S. strikes would be far less certain to give the rebels an upper hand militarily – if the U.S. showed any interest in launching them.
“The regime already has pushed its way through central Homs and, a couple months down the road, we could see the entire Homs province under regime control,” Ghanem, of the Syrian American Council, said.
It would seem then that the only way the opposition can stop the killing is to participate in negotiations based on the so-called Geneva communique, a document drafted in June 2012 by the Action Group for Syria, a collection of foreign ministers, the secretary-general of the United Nations and the Arab League.
Kerry and Lavrov said they’d meet later his month, probably around Sept. 28 when they’ll both be in New York for the U.N. General Assembly, with the goal of setting a date for a long-delayed peace summit that’s based on the Geneva document.
The communique called for an end to violence on both sides, with a U.N. team monitoring compliance. It also requires that hostilities be resolved through negotiations that would include members of the current government, opposition figures and other groups, all working to an eventual goal of free, multi-party elections.
The sticking point was what wasn’t explicitly laid out in the document: an opposition demand that Assad step aside before talks could begin. The demand was backed up by the Americans, including then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said in June 2012 that Assad’s ouster didn’t have to be a precondition but should be “the outcome.” The Russians have always argued that the talks called for in the Geneva document didn’t hinge on Assad’s departure.
Daniel Layman, a spokesman for the Syrian Support Group, a Washington-based rebel fundraising group, said it was unclear whether the opposition would agree to attend talks under the Geneva framework.
“I can’t see Assad coming to the table under the preconditions the opposition has set, unless he’s backed into a corner militarily,” Layman said. “The Russians knew this, that they could make the opposition look like the bad guys if they could get Assad to make some concessions. It was calculated.”