Make use of chemical conventions

Regarding the Sept. 12 article “Obama gives Syria diplomatic option to avoid U.S. strike“: In a plan jointly developed just over a week ago with Dr. Gordon Thompson, who directs the Institute for Resource and Security Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts (before U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s door-opening comment in London on Sept. 9) we set out a bold strategy that would tie in the key Middle Eastern powers into a binding deal

In abridged form, we argue one, as yet untried, diplomatic option would be to work under the auspices of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to rapidly remove chemical weapons from Syria. Negotiation and implementation of this action would bring the Syrian government into close engagement with the world community, and would involve the presence of U.N. inspection teams.

The first step would be to urgently convene a special session of state parties to the CWC. Any party could call for this step. The Japanese government may be an especially appropriate candidate for this role, following the nation’s experience of the horrific use of sarin poison gas by the Aum sect on the Tokyo subway system in 1995.

The session’s purpose would be to seek rapid accession to the CWC by states that are not yet parties, with special attention to Syria.

The major motive, however, would be pressure from the Syrian government’s allies. Russia is central; but another key actor would be Iran. While Iran is a firm ally of the Syrian government, Iran’s people have learned from bitter experience to abhor chemical weapons. Iran made a statement to the April 2013 CWC review conference, on behalf of Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries and China, including the passage:

“The NAM CWC States Parties and China express their deep concern that chemical weapons may have been used in the Syrian Arab Republic. We underline that the use of chemical weapons by anyone under any circumstances would be reprehensible and completely contrary to the legal norms and standards of the international community.”

Translation of this sentiment into an adequate level of pressure on the Syrian government could involve a bargain directly affecting four countries — Iran, Syria, Egypt and Israel. Other key participants would include the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, U.K., Russia, France and China. The bargain would require each country to re-think entrenched positions and abandon some long-standing linkages among negotiating issues.

In return, Israel would make concessions about its nuclear arsenal.

Why might Israel participate in this bold venture? In fact, Israel’s government is already committed to negotiations of this type. At the generally overlooked 2008 Paris Summit for the Mediterranean, co-chaired by France and Egypt, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed to a joint declaration. One provision was a commitment to pursue a Middle East zone free of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

The bargain outlined here is a daunting target for negotiators. However, it offers a potential outcome that is substantially more attractive than the status quo.

david lowry
stoneleigh, england

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.