(...) Within hours all hell broke loose. The high drama was neatly captured by the well-known Nigerian-American novelist Teju Cole (author of Open City), who twittered:
Kerry: We won’t attack ... if you do this impossible thing. Syria? Oh, We’ll do it. Russia: They’ll do it. UN: They’ll do it. Kerry: Shit!
All sorts of conspiracy theories have since popped up - including that a secret Russian-American plan is afoot to help Obama to beat a decent retreat from war plan against Syria. But the honest truth is Kerry made yet another gaffe, and this time it took a life of its own.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (who plays ice hockey by the way) crashed into Kerry within a split second to grab the puck:
We [Russia] do not know if Syria agrees to this, but if placing the chemical weapons under international control helps avoid military strikes, then we will immediately get to work on this.
We are calling on the Syrian authorities to reach agreement, not only on putting chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and then joining the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
We have already handed over this proposal to [Syrian foreign minister Walid] Muallem, who is in Moscow, and hope for a quick and positive answer.
Muallem, of course, didn’t even bother to consult Damascus:
I have attentively listened to Mr Lavrov’s statement. I declare that Syria, guided by its concern for the lives of its citizens and the security of the country, welcomes the Russian initiative.
Indeed, it is not that Russia and Syria were taking advantage of the time difference between Washington and London (from where Kerry spoke.) Even David Cameron got deceived. The British prime minister said the excellent Russian plan to place Syria’s stockpiles under international control is "hugely welcome’’.
A fire-fighting operation began no sooner than folks in Washington heard about Kerry’s offer and the Russian plan and the Syrian response, et al. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf called her boss’s words “hypothetical” and “rhetorical” and poured cold water on the Russian plan as "highly unlikely’’. She clarified, “Secretary [Kerry] was not making a proposal.” (...)