James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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The World Next Week: Syria Faces a Chemical Weapons Deadline, UN General Assembly Convenes for Its 68th Session, and Germans Vote for Chancellor

by James M. Lindsay
September 19, 2013

UN chemical weapons experts prepare to collect samples from an alleged site of a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of Zamalka (Bassam Khabieh/Courtesy Reuters). UN chemical weapons experts prepare to collect samples from an alleged site of a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of Zamalka (Bassam Khabieh/Courtesy Reuters).

The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed whether Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will meet his commitments on chemical weapons, the start of another session of the United Nations General Assembly, and Germany’s national elections this weekend.

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The highlights:

  • Syria is set to file an inventory listing its stockpile of chemical weapons with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons tomorrow. The Hague-based OPCW is the entity charged with monitoring compliance with the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. The submission is required under the terms of the Framework for the Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons, the deal that Russia and the United States negotiated last weekend. The framework is ambitious. It calls for Syria to eliminate all of its chemical weapons by mid-2014. To put that in perspective, the United States has been working for more than a quarter-of-a-century to dismantle its chemical weapons stockpile, and it’s still not finished. That said, Russia’s prestige is now on the line as Washington and its allies wait to see if Moscow can deliver Syrian compliance. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says that Russia would see its initiative as successful only if chemical weapons are removed from Syria. One sticking point is that Russia continues to quarrel with the United States, France, and Great Britain over what the Security Council resolution endorsing the framework should say. The Western powers want the resolution to have enforcement teeth; Russia doesn’t.
  • While the Security Council debates Syria, the UN General Assembly convenes next week to open its 68th annual session. The theme of this year’s session is long-term economic development. John Ashe, UNGA’s new president, says that the coming year will be “pivotal” as the General Assembly seeks to identify the parameters of the post-2015 development agenda—2015 being the target date of the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs, that were hammered out back in 2000. Meanwhile, news that Washington and Tehran have traded diplomatic notes is fueling speculation that UNGA could produce a breakthrough on Iran’s nuclear weapons program and U.S.-Iranian relations more broadly. Experts will be listening closely to what new Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has to say in his first speech at UNGA on Tuesday, which also happens to be the day that President Obama addresses the General Assembly. It’s not likely that the two presidents will be shaking hands on the margins of the meeting, but their senior aides just might have something to talk about.
  • German voters go to the polls on Sunday to decide who will be their next chancellor. The odds favor Angela Merkel holding onto the job. Less clear is what her governing coalition will look like. She might maintain her existing coalition with the Free Democrats. Or she might turn to a grand coalition with the Social Democrats. Whatever the result, many observers outside of Germany are hoping that the new German government will take more aggressive steps to fix the ongoing eurozone crisis. Those hopes are likely to be disappointed, though. Support among the German electorate for bailing out Greece and other deeply indebted European countries is low, and Chancellor Merkel has thus far shown herself to be a leader who doesn’t get too far ahead of her constituents.
  • Bob’s Figure of the Week is 175 percent. My Figure of the Week is Dilma Rousseff. Our audience-nominated Figure of the Week comes from TWNW listener @EytanSosnovich who picked 100 percent. As always, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out why.

For more on the topics we discussed in the podcast check out:

Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Fox News interviews Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. The UN provides the full text of its report on the August 21 chemical weapons attack. The New York Times reports that Russia has criticized the UN report on the August attack. Paul Stares explains three things to know about Syria’s chemical weapons disarmament.

UN General Assembly: The United Nations provides a provisional agenda for the General Assembly. The UN News Centre writes that the General Assembly aims to lay the groundwork for sustainable development past 2015. The Wall Street Journal describes possible meetings between the United States and Iran. The Guardian writes that Iran has freed political prisoners ahead of Hassan Rouhani’s trip to the UN.

German Elections: BBC News describes several possible election outcomes. Deutsche Welle explains what’s at stake in the German elections and analyzes the only televised German debate. The Guardian argues that the German election is important to Europe’s future. Mats Persson writes in the Wall Street Journal that post-election Germany’s ability to act in Europe will be limited.

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