As the civil war within the U.S. House of Representatives rages, the crisis in Syria took a step in the right direction last week.
The 15-nation United Nations Security Council, including China and Russia, came to a unanimous agreement to require Syria to give up its chemical weapons.
The resolution requires Syria to allow for the destruction of its chemical weapons and the equipment to produce chemical weapons by the middle of 2014 or face possible economic sanctions and military action as determined by the Security Council. Specifically, the resolution states that Syria, "shall not use, develop, produce, otherwise acquire, stockpile or retain chemical weapons, or transfer, directly or indirectly, chemical weapons to other states or non-state actors." It will now be up to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to come up with the procedures for identifying and destroying these weapons in Syria. It will also be up to the OPCW to monitor Syria's compliance with the U.N. resolution and report back to the Security Council on its progress.
This is a major accomplishment and it is an important step not only for Syria but for the rest of the world where weapons of mass destruction hang over our heads. Getting China and Russia to vote with the United States to rid any country of its chemical weapons is a hopeful sign for future cooperation in this area. It may even set the stage for similar agreements regarding Iran's developing nuclear weapons program.
Related to Iran, last Thursday, also at the United Nations, Secretary of State John Kerry had a meeting with Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif. This was the first time in many years that high-level meetings occurred between Iran and the United States. And then on Friday, President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke on the phone for 15 minutes and ended 34 years of official silence between the two nations.
According to Doug Mills, of The New York Times, Obama and Rouhani, "agreed to accelerate talks aimed at defusing the dispute over Iran's nuclear program and afterward expressed optimism at the prospect of a rapprochement that would transform the Middle East." Rouhani later released a statement saying, "In regards to nuclear issue, with political will, there is a way to rapidly solve the matter." Rouhani went on to say that he hoped to present a plan to resolve the nuclear standoff in three weeks.
Since Iran is also one of the largest weapons suppliers to the civil war raging in Syria, second only to Russia, these developments taken together bring a glimmer of hope for a future end to the Syrian civil war.
Like Obama, who received criticism from U.S. conservatives not pleased about the possibility of rebuilding relations with Iran, Rouhani has had to deal with his own conservatives in Iran who are not happy about their new president's outreach to the U.S. Rouhani skipped a planned meeting with Obama at the United Nations last week in response to outrage from Iranian conservatives who heard about the possible meeting.
But there are some people who are happy about these small but positive developments in Syria and Iran. Joseph Cirincione, president of the arms control group Ploughshares Fund, stated, "The phone call wasn't just history. It helped fundamentally change the course of Iranian-U.S. relations."
People are talking and this is good.