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With US strikes against Syria still looming, a ray of hope has emerged that might help avert them, as members of the international community, the United States and Syria included, have responded positively to a Russian proposal that the Middle East country place its chemical weapons under international control.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that the chemical stockpiles of the Syrian government should be put under international observation, and that Syria should fully join the treaty prohibiting the use of chemical weapons.
Syria has welcomed the proposition, while US President Barack Obama described the Russian offer as a "positive breakthrough" in a series of television interviews on Monday night. He said plans for a strike would be put on hold if Syria moves to hand over its chemical weapons, and in light of this new development the US Senate has postponed a crucial vote to authorize military action that was due to take place on Wednesday.
Obviously, stripping Syria of its chemical arsenal would also strip Washington of its pretext for declaring war, and the heartening response to the Russian proposal shows there is still ample room for diplomatic efforts to diffuse the crisis in Syria.
With the United Nations joining others in endorsing Russia's proposal this week, there is a broad consensus among the international community that this might be a positive breakthrough in the attempt to secure a political settlement to the long-time crisis.
Until all diplomatic efforts have been exhausted, the US should exercise caution about taking unilateral action. US Congressional authorization is no warrant for military intervention. Only the UN Security Council has the authority to mandate such action.
Any use of chemical weapons is a blatant violation of international law, so is any unilateral move to launch military action against a sovereign state. The international community is strongly opposed to both.
As there are signs that Bashar al-Assad's government might be willing to make concessions, the Obama administration should know denying international mediation a chance at this juncture would weaken its case for strikes even further. With little international support and the consequences of any military action unpredictable, acting alone would only reinforce the US' image as a warmonger.
(China Daily 09/11/2013 page9)