Middle East

Press: Russia offers Obama exit from Syria crisis

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem (r) and and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov walk to a news conference on 9 September 2013 following a meeting in Moscow.
Image caption Syria has welcomed the Russian initiative on international control over its chemical weapons

Media commentators believe Russia's proposal for Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons could offer all players - and especially US President Barack Obama - a face-saving exit from a tricky situation.

They say it could help Mr Obama avoid a potentially humiliating failure to win support from Congress for military action, and spare a reluctant West armed involvement in Syria. It could also allow Russian President Vladimir Putin - so far seen as a strong supporter of the Syrian regime - to present himself as an impartial mediator, according to some.

But others wonder whether Russia is merely trying to win time for Damascus or undermine support for military action. A Russian newspaper, on the other hand, believes the US is hell-bent on military action in any case, pointing out that US officials already appear to have rowed back from comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry seen as having raised the idea.

Editorial in the New York Times

"Secretary of State John Kerry may not have expected his casual suggestion that Syria avert American military action by giving up its chemical weapons to be taken seriously. But it may have created a diplomatic way out for President Obama... He has won little support for his plan internationally, in Congress or with the American public."

Ghassan Shabaneh, commenting on Al-Jazeera TV

"There are doubts about the true intentions of the Syrian regime to give up those weapons... [and] the proposal might be a political manoeuvre to buy time. It is a smart move by the Russian officials and the Syrians went with it."

Article in Lebanese pro-Assad daily Al-Akhbar

"There is no doubt that the Russian initiative is a turning point and puts an end to the efforts to strike Syria, in return for international supervision of its chemical weapons arsenal. There is also no doubt that it has changed the equation and left an air of relief in a region that was expecting rivers of blood and destructive earthquakes. But the devil is, as always, in the detail."

Guenther Nonnemacher in German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

"Politically, this has a certain attractiveness. Obama is faced with the challenge of persuading his doubtful countrymen and an intractable Congress of the merits of military action. Putin would be able to rid himself of the image of a naysayer stubbornly protecting a mass murderer. And the West as a whole would be spared the dilemma of having to intervene in a civil war it wants to keep out of."

Ansgar Graw in German daily Die Welt

"Maybe it is just a ruse to win time for Bashar al-Assad. But since the Syrian despot seems to be playing merely a minor role in the struggle for his country's future, one may sum things up as follows: If the Russians are serious with their initiative, Barack Obama could in the next few months actually earn the Nobel Peace Prize he was prematurely awarded about four years ago."

David Shain in Israeli daily Ma'ariv

"The Russians' compromise proposal is a ladder that allows everyone to get down from the trees they have climbed up. The only ones who will be unhappy at it acceptance are Syria's citizens, as this means the continuation of the brutal civil war. Behind the smiles, the status quo will persist, as if no chemical weapons were used and Syrian children were not being murdered with conventional weapons every day."

Amos Harel in Israeli daily Ha'aretz

"Obama has much to gain from such a deal: He is still having trouble mobilising support in Congress. If most of the chemical weapons are removed from Syria, Obama can say that he did his thing: He promised weapons of mass destruction would not be used again. At the same time, he would spare himself political confrontation in Washington and entanglement in a military attack."

Corine Lesnes in French daily Le Monde

"As Hillary Clinton said on Monday, the Russian initiative is 'an important step'. And a development which could - temporarily - save face for Barack Obama at a time when he is coming up against a growing wall of opposition."

Laure Mandeville in French daily Le Figaro

"Is this a simple Russian diversionary tactic intended to spread unease and doubt in the US Congress? Or have the Russians perhaps decided to force the hand of their Syrian ally, hoping to come out of it with the image of a 'saviour' or mediator? Are they sketching out a way out for an America which does not want another intervention even if it brandishes it?"

Galina Dudina and Yelena Chernenko in Russian daily Kommersant

"The fact that Damascus has agreed to Moscow's proposal will substantially weaken the position of the proponents of military intervention in Syria. Now it will be much more difficult for Barack Obama to persuade American congressmen to support military action against Damascus."

Alexei Nikolsky in Russian daily Vedomosti

"According to a source close to the Russian Defence Ministry, the US has in all likelihood already decided to launch strikes, and will continue to present Kerry's words as a slip of the tongue, or will set unrealistic conditions. An operation to establish control over [Syria's] chemical weapons is very complicated technically and politically, and the US will easily find an excuse to avoid implementing Russia's initiative."

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