How a Deal on Chemical Weapons Inspections Could End Syria’s Civil War

Some very important reporting in the New York Times today suggests that an agreement over chemical weapons inspections in Syria may form the basis of something larger.

Mr. Kerry and Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, held a working lunch earlier on the chemical weapons issue. Their teams of arms controls officials also conferred. In the morning, Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov had a three-way meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy, on the parallel issue of how to arrange a peace conference to facilitate a political settlement.

“President Obama is deeply committed to a negotiated solution with respect to Syria,” Mr. Kerry told a joint news conference at which he said the three diplomats would continue their discussions around Sept. 28 in New York.

But prospects for peace talks, he said, would depend heavily on the outcome of the efforts to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and eventually destroy them.

“We both agreed to do that homework and meet again in New York around the time of the U.N. General Assembly in order to see if it is possible then to find a date for that conference, much of which will obviously depend on the capacity to have success here in the next days″ on the subject of the chemical weapons, Mr. Kerry said. It was not clear if their Geneva meetings would wrap up Friday or continue into Saturday.

As the deliberations went on, Kofi Annan, the former United Nations Secretary General and prior Syrian envoy, also conferred separately with Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov.

“These are fast-moving developments,” said Mr. Annan. “And I hope we are going to see further movement on the issue.”

“Hopefully at the end of the day we will come up with a proposal that deals effectively with the chemical weapons, gets people back to the table to seek political settlement and improve the humanitarian condition for the people of Syria.”

This is an optimistic scenario, to be sure. But it is increasingly plausible. After years of hopelessness, an agreement on chemical weapons inspections would be the first time that Russia and the USA would agree to something substantive on Syria. That could provide the momentum urgently needed to bring the sides of the civil war one step closer to a pacific resolution. It’s still a longshot, but it is a whole lot more likely now than it was just one week ago.