LISBON, Portugal — After weeks of confusion and division over Syria, there was near unanimous support in Europe for the Russian proposal to place Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons under international control.
Above all, Europeans are relieved that Moscow's plan has opened the possibility of a solution that would ensure an end to chemical attacks while avoiding a widening of the military conflict.
"I hope that these developments will facilitate the resumption of efforts towards a political solution," said Catherine Ashton, the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs. "I urge all partners in the international community to seize this momentum to reinvigorate the process leading to the swift holding of a peace conference."
Markets followed governments in responding positively to the Russian plan, the main share indexes in Germany, France and Spain all rose about 2 percent.
However, Tuesday’s fast-moving diplomatic events revealed a rift in the international consensus on international chemical weapons controls.
Russia rejected a draft UN Security Council resolution put forward by France, and backed by Britain and the United States, that would legally bind Assad to hand over his poison gas stocks — and hold out the prospect of international military action if he fails to comply.
Moscow was drafting its own alternative, with President Vladimir Putin warning that the plan would fail unless the US dropped the threat of force against the Assad regime.
Paris and London fear Assad will be left off the hook unless the proposal includes strong measures to prevent backsliding. British Prime Minister David Cameron said tough UN wording is needed to ensure the Russian plan isn’t a "ruse."
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However, given the widespread aversion to military action among politicians and the wider public, governments will be under pressure to ensure any political initiative is given a full run. Tough negotiations are now expected at the Security Council in New York to thrash out a workable compromise.
Even if a deal is made, however, many in Europe will be wary that a chemical weapons plan could enable Assad to play a prolonged game of cat-and-mouse game with international inspectors to forestall western action and undermine pressure over a political solution to the conflict.