US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov have been locked in negotiations in Geneva these past two days, trying to reach an agreement over Russia's latest initiative to bring Syria's chemical weapons under international monitoring to avert a potential strike.
The meeting is widely seen as a US "test" of the strength of the Russian proposal. Analysts believe the US and Russia are far apart over specific issues such as how to secure and eventually dismantle Syria's chemical weapon stockpiles. And there are also sharp divisions between their specific goals. For instance, Washington may insist on maintaining the threat of military action alongside diplomatic efforts. It may seek to focus on securing not only the chemical weapons but also other munitions, which goes far beyond what Lavrov is offering.
Despite pessimistic predictions that the negotiation will turn out to be a protracted one, given the Herculean difficulties, its biggest significance is that the US and Russia are veering toward the diplomatic front, albeit an exploratory one. This is an important, pragmatic step following US President Barack Obama's Syria speech on Tuesday in which he announced he was willing to "let talks play out."
Obama is being besieged at home for embracing a Russian diplomatic alternative. Many politicians, even some in his own party, slammed his "about-face" on Syria. They believe the Russia offer is just a "ruse," and that the Obama administration "is now trapped into seeing it through." Meanwhile, suppors believe this nimble president is making the right decision at the right time.
Exploration of a diplomatic route on Syria must be encouraged. Hopes for a diplomatic solution to the Syria impasse should be kept alive. If the diplomatic talks move along a practical direction and ultimately work out, not only will the Obama administration be remembered for making a difference, but it will become a successful case where Western military intervention is put on hold through diplomatic compromise and ultimately prevented.
International opinion should also applaud the ongoing diplomatic efforts and help minimize possibilities of Washington moving back to contemplating military action. In his latest bylined article in The New York Times, President Putin made an appeal to the US public, calling for caution in dealing with the Syria scenario. International opinion, especially those in non-Western countries, should help push forward the mission described by Putin as aiming to "stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement."