Just as President Obama was ready to take his plans for a US strike on Bashar Assad's regime in Syria to Congress, the Russian Kremlin has jumped in to call his bluff. The threat of force coming from the White House has caused widespread international concern, prompting President Putin to conjure up an alternative offer - what if President Assad was to give up his chemical weapons?
The prospect of a diplomatic answer to the crisis has delayed a congressional vote on the possibility of US air strikes whilst the West and the United Nations negotiate to see if a deal can be made. It was the devastating scenes of the alleged chemical attack last month in the surrounding rebel controlled regions of Damascus that pushed the West into calling for military action following Mr Obama's previous statement that a chemical attack in Syria would cross a "red line", a line that would change his calculus and force a response from the US.
Despite the Prime Minister David Cameron's enthusiasm for potential military action against the Assad regime, Parliament rejected the idea resulting in an historic defeat for the government. Although the prospect of a second vote is not off the cards, the consensus in Westminster and among the British public overall is that the UK should not take part in any military intervention by assisting the opposition rebels further in Syria. Mr Obama thus had a choice - go it alone with support from the French or delay any action by taking his proposal to congress to vote on. The latter decision has enabled the chance for peaceful negotiations to come to the table, and Mr Putin's sudden call for the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria will inevitably alter American opinion and potentially change the way congress votes on Mr Obama's plans.
Arguing his proposition further, Mr Putin wrote today for the New York Times highlighting the potential consequences that a US strike could have:
"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 spreading the conflict far beyond Syria's borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism."
A Syria without chemical weapons would be a welcome prospect and it is easy to see the attraction to Russia's offer; however, the destruction of chemical weapons in Syria would not prevent the free use of conventional arms which is arguably just as worrying. Reporting from Maaloula yesterday where the Syrian army have taken control, the BBC's Middle East Editor, Jeremy Bowen, highlighted the violent reality of a Syrian border under attack from the Assad regime, an attack which took place without the use of a chemical weapon. If the West and UN come to an agreement on Mr Putin's proposal, such scenes will be free to continue.
Ultimately, the world would rather seek a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis, though along with preventing the chance of a further chemical attack, such a solution needs to acknowledge the danger presented by conventional arms before Syria begins to see any sign of an end to the crisis.
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