A new agreement and its pitfalls
Arabic media review

A new agreement and its pitfalls

Assad may have lost, but that doesn't mean the opposition or the Americans have won, an Arab columnist claims

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

A Syrian protester chants slogans during a demonstration in Arbeen town, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Friday, Sept. 13, 2013 (photo credit: AP)
A Syrian protester chants slogans during a demonstration in Arbeen town, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Friday, Sept. 13, 2013 (photo credit: AP)

The Russian-American plan to remove Bashar Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles leads the news in Arab dailies Sunday.

“The ‘Geneva deal’ strips the regime of lethal weapons,” reads the headline of London-based daily Al-Hayat, featuring a photo of a laughing Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov embracing US Secretary of State John Kerry.

According to the daily, the agreement is exceptional for two reasons: firstly, because of the Russian agreement to act under UN Security Council chapter seven if the Syrians fail to fulfill the deal; and secondly, the Syrian agreement to rid itself of all chemical weapons by the first half of 2014, coinciding with the end of Assad’s term in office.

“One week’s stay for Assad to reveal the chemical weapons, and Obama hints at punishment,” reads the headline of Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat.

“This agreement, composed of six points, expresses real progress in the Syrian crisis, after the gap between the positions of the sides seemed large at first,” reads the article.

Meanwhile, staunchly pro-opposition news channel Al-Jazeera, based in Qatar, reports that the Syrian opposition is demanding a no-fly zone over Syria, while France demands that Assad be tried for war crimes.

The commanders of two Syrian opposition battalions, A-Tawhid and Al-Fath, declared their unification in Aleppo Friday, taking the opportunity to condemn the Assad regime and Russia for conspiring against the opposition efforts to topple Assad.

Saudi-owned news website Elaph reports that “Iran is worried about Assad despite the removal of the specter of war.”

“The diplomatic progress to end the Syrian crisis diplomatically does not leave Iran at ease. Assad’s destiny continues to depend on the violent clashes between the Free Syrian Army and the Assad forces,” reads the article.

Al-Hayat columnist Hazem Saghiyeh argues in an op-ed Sunday that the Assad regime sustained a double blow from the Russian-American agreement: an economic blow of giving up its weapons and “forgoing the lie of strategic balance with Israel,” and a moral blow of allowing inspectors to enter Syria, hastening the demise of the regime.

However, he argues, the Syrian rebels may not benefit from the regime’s demise. The rebels have failed to ally themselves with the West in their struggle against Assad; the deal cut between Assad, Russia and the US has ignored “the Syrians and their pain.” The Obama regime, too, emerged weak from the agreement, he argues.

A-Sharq Al-Awsat columnist Tareq Homayed likens the Russian-American agreement to “buying fish in the sea,” claiming that its success is hard to imagine.

“The question is: what vouches for this agreement? What are the consequences for failing to abide by it? Most dangerous of all, Lavrov says that its success requires cooperation from the opposition. Does the opposition own the chemical weapons or control the areas in which it is stored?” wonders Homayed.

“In this agreement, the Russians have succeeded once again in protecting Assad. Paradoxically, they have protected him this time not by using the veto in the Security Council but through the agreement of the Obama administration itself!” 

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