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UN report on chemical weapons puts pressure on Syria

Free Syrian Army fighters sit on the back of a car driving toward the front line in Aleppo's Sheikh Saeed neighborhood, on Friday, Sept. 20.
Molhem Barakat | REUTERS
Free Syrian Army fighters sit on the back of a car driving toward the front line in Aleppo's Sheikh Saeed neighborhood, on Friday, Sept. 20.
Posted Sept. 22, 2013, at 11:05 a.m.

A decade ago, weak evidence of the crimes of Saddam Hussein helped lead the United States and its allies to war in Iraq. Today, strong evidence of war crimes by Bashar Assad may help the U.S. and its allies avoid war in Syria.

The damning United Nations report that confirms the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons also highlights the importance of the Sept. 14 agreement putting Syria’s chemical weapons on the path to destruction — and the huge challenges of doing so. It also points to the need to leverage this agreement into a lasting political solution to Syria’s increasingly horrific conflict.

If Syria abides by the terms of the pact reached by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Secretary Sergei Lavrov, both it and the world will be a better place.

For all the complaints about Obama’s tortuous negotiating style — complaints that the president has tartly dismissed — one thing is clear: It was the U.S.’s threat of military force that brought us to this hopeful point, and it must be retained.

The U.N. report makes something else clear: the need to redouble efforts for a political settlement, and to write a future for Syria that does not include Assad. In keeping with its limited mandate, the report offers no “smoking missile,” but the circumstantial evidence confirming earlier U.S. assertions about the regime’s culpability is compelling.

It’s far too early to say that this agreement lays out a path for a larger solution. But it does show what the U.S. and Russia can achieve when, whether for the wrong or the right reasons, their interests align.

Bloomberg News (Sept. 17)

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