Foreign governments began a new round of diplomatic shuffling following President Barack Obama’s announcement on Tuesday night that U.S.-led military strikes against the Assad regime were on hold. During a televised address, the commander in chief said intervention had been temporarily shelved as U.S. officials prepare to enter negotiations regarding the handover of chemical weapons.
The week’s diplomatic whirlwind began with Secretary of State John Kerry dropped a seemingly off the cuff comment during a press conference in London on Monday that suggested strikes could be called off if the Assad regime agreed to handover their stockpiles of nerve gas.
Within 24 hours, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem went on the record for the first time admitting that his government possessed such weapons. He went on to pledge that the regime was prepared to abide by a Russian proposal that would allow Damascus to surrender all chemical arms to international control.
However, analysts questioned whether any deal would be possible without first securing a nationwide ceasefire between the government and the myriad rebel militias that have emerged during the two-year civil war.
“Imagine if a video is posted online [showing] a Chinese HJ-8 anti-tank missile, purchased from Sudan from Qatar and sent to the opposition, being fired at U.N. inspectors or a chemical weapon convoy, what would happen then?” asks Eliot Higgins, who tracks the weapons being used on Syrian battlefields on his renowned blog Brown Moses, during an email exchange with TIME. “During a time of civil war, with so many different groups involved, it seems to me a lot could go wrong.”
In Iran on Wednesday, officials expressed doubt that the American leadership was truly dedicated to resolving the crisis diplomatically. “US Pres. conceded: no direct or imminent threat to the US, hence consulting Congress. Nice Const’l Law, but What about int’l law? Dangerous,” tweeted Iranian Foreign Minster Javad Zarif.
Indian officials had earlier thrown their support behind Russia’s proposal to secure international custody of Syria’s chemical weapons during a foreign ministry briefing. Government spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said on Tuesday that India had always pushed for the “complete elimination and destruction of chemical weapons” and that pending their elimination, it is important to ensure their safe custody. “If there are any proposals which are moving in this direction, then obviously India will see it as a positive development.”
In China, where the government has been ardently opposed to the use of military force, officials inexplicably hosted a six-member delegation of the Syrian opposition on Tuesday, reported the New York Times. The rebel envoys were in the country upon the invitation of the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs; however, few details were released about the exact nature of the encounter.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Kerry is slated to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, where the two are likely to begin the difficult process of hashing out a resolution that will be accepted by both the Syrians and the U.N. Security Council. Kerry said he was expecting to receive the Kremlin’s complete proposal before the Geneva meeting.
British, French and American envoys are also reportedly in the process of drafting a resolution for U.N. consideration. According to the BBC, an early French draft called on the Syrian government to declare its chemical weapons within 15 days and allow U.N. weapons inspectors to begin visiting holding sites or face “extremely serious” consequences.
(WATCH: Obama’s national address)
President Vladimir Putin fired back on Tuesday during an interview on Russian television that an agreement would only be viable once the plans to use military force against the Syrian government were excised from any potential drafts. “You can’t really ask Syria, or any other country, to disarm unilaterally while military action against it is being contemplated,” he said.
Regardless of the diplomatic breakthroughs that has kept the U.S. military posed but idle, the bloody conflict that has ravaged the country shows no sign of abating. According to a report by Reuters, Assad’s airforce bombed rebel-held suburbs of Damascus on Tuesday — the first time since the chemical weapons attack that stirred up the international community occurred on Aug. 21. Conversely, the U.S. has apparently begun supplying select rebel groups in Syria with light arms.