Washington: After years of estrangement, the United States and Russia are joined as partners in a bold plan to rid Syria of chemical weapons.
More surprising yet, American and Iranian leaders after an exchange of courteous letters may meet in New York for the first time since the Islamic revolution swept Iran nearly 35 years ago.
Hopes are unusually high as world leaders gather at the United Nations this week. While the results are far from certain, all players in the delicate diplomacy confronting them in the coming days could even come out winners in a world increasingly fraught with zero-sum outcomes.
It begins with the UN Security Council scrambling to put together a resolution that is sweeping enough to ensure that Syrian President Bashar Assad surrenders all his chemical arms, and with sufficient penalties to discourage him from reneging.
The five permanent members of the Security Council the US, Russia, China, Britain and France all hold veto power, and Russia has not shied from blocking a council resolution that would punish Syrian behavior in the civil war.
The Russians were especially vigorous in promising to veto air strikes to punish Syria for the Aug. 21 chemical attack that killed hundreds of people in a Damascus suburb.
The US blames Assad`s regime for the attack; Russia says there is no proof that the regime was responsible and suggests it may have been the rebels who carried it out.
Lacking UN approval, US President Barack Obama who had warned last year that Assad`s use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" was nevertheless about to wage a limited air offensive against Syria but pulled up short and sought US congressional approval.
It then quickly became clear that Obama would not get that backing, with polls showing the American public solidly against any further military involvement in the Middle East.
At that point, Russian President Vladimir Putin stepped in and strong-armed Assad into agreeing to turn over his chemical arsenal to international control and destruction. Obama, faced with the prospect of attacking Syria against the will of both the US Congress and the UN Security Council, jumped to accept the Russian gambit.