The United States and Russia have put forward proposals that could begin to bring to an end the horrible slaughter in Syria that has continued for more than five years.
The craftsmen of the proposal were U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. They are the same two who led the way in bringing home the agreement between the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) plus Germany and Iran, exchanging Iran’s nuclear weapons program for international economic sanctions against it. The two reached agreement in Geneva.
The first critical piece of the accord is a “cessation of hostilities” to begin today at sundown. A second military step will be the establishment Sept. 19 of a joint U.S.-Russian implementation center. It will begin by coordinating U.S. and Russian military strikes in Syria against forces of the Islamic State and Jabbat Fateh al-Sham, formerly known as the Nusra Front, Islamist organizations that both nations and the government of President Bashar Assad in Syria oppose.
The devil of these agreements is always in the details, but, in this case, the principal enemy of implementation is the plethora of national and international parties to the conflict, active to different degrees. International parties involved include Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
To begin with, on a positive note, Russia states that the Syrian government is ready to fulfill the measures in the U.S.-Russian accord. Its forces, say the Russians, upon whom the Syrian government is dependent to a degree for its military capacity, will end combat missions into specified opposition-occupied areas. These include at least part of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a charnel house of recent killing.
Some of the hydra-headed Syrian opposition has voiced cautious approval of the U.S.-Russian proposals. The United States is on the hook to deliver the agreement of the Syrian opposition groups that depend on American aid, including Kurdish forces.
The European Union has called on the United Nations, led by U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura, to prepare a proposal for a political transition in Syria that could lead from the U.S.-Russian measures to a total end to the civil war. It has continued for five years. An estimated 400,000 have died, many of them children. Another estimated 5 million Syrians have fled the country, stripping it and creating problems in countries of refuge.
The question now is whether Syrians and the rest of the world have finally reached the point of concluding, first, that Syrians have suffered enough, and, second, that the problems in Syria are not susceptible to being resolved by more fighting. It is possible that that point has now been reached.