BRUSSELS — Bashar Assad has gained at least one more year as Syria’s president because of his decision to dispose of the country’s chemical stockpile, a senior European diplomat said on Wednesday.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the EU diplomat said he recently returned from a visit to Syria, where he learned from the UN team tasked with overseeing the destruction of the country’s chemical weapons, that the Assad regime was being “very cooperative.”
“It is extremely difficult to negotiate with the Syrians and it’s almost impossible to reach an agreement [with them], but once you’ve reached an agreement they normally stick to it and implement it to the letter,” the diplomat said. The Russian-initiated deal was signed in late September.
US Secretary of State John Kerry was quick to commend the Assad regime for its compliance with the terms of the agreement. Speaking at a summit in Bali on October 7, Kerry said Assad’s swift move to destroy the chemical weapons was “a good beginning” and “a credit to the Assad regime.”
The European diplomat said Wednesday that Assad has found favor with the West in a similar way to Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi, who decided in December 2003 to relinquish his country’s nuclear aspirations in exchange for the lifting of US sanctions.
“Politically, this deal has given Bashar Al-Assad another year at least,” the diplomat said, because the international community will need him for the next year to implement that deal.”
“Whoever it was who advised Bashar Al-Assad on the deal was, in my opinion, a foreign policy genius,” he added.
In an interview with Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar last month, Assad explained that Syria no longer needed chemical weapons as a deterrent against Israel, since its long-range missiles better served that function.
“It is enough to control Israel’s airports with firepower in order to paralyze it,” Assad told the daily.
According to the agreement signed by Syria and carried out by the UN’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), all of Syria’s chemical weapons material and equipment must be eliminated by the first half of 2014.
Danish and American vessels are due to begin transporting Syria’s chemical stockpile to sea for neutralization in early January.