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Syria's War

Breaking news coverage of developments in Syria's War and the broader regional conflict, including allegations of the deadly use of chemical weapons and the international community's response

  • Secretary of State John Kerry rejected Syrian President Bashar Assad's suggestion that he begin submitting information on Syria's chemical weapons arsenal one month after signing an international chemical weapons ban.

    "There is nothing standard about this process," Kerry said at a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. "The words of the Syrian regime in our judgment are simply not enough." [AP]
  • Carney: There is no credible reporting that opposition used chemical weapons in #Syria . Even Iran has publicly blamed Assad regime
  • Carney: Both in his op-ed and in the statement and actions we've seen from Putin, its clear Putin invested his credibility in #CW transfer
  • Harf: No change in US position that Assad absolutely must not be part of #Syria 's political future-@Reuters #Syria
  • Awkward - Kerry jokes "you want me to take your word" to Lavrov after lost translation - that is a good sign no?
  • Lavrov made short statement, said he won't lay out diplomacy at press conference. Referenced Putin's op-ed in The New York Times.
  • Kerry rejects Assad's 30-day deadline for submitting weapons data, says words not enough. #breaking
  • Kerry: Together we will test the Assad regime's commitment to follow through on its promises - Live blog:
  • Kerry: This is not a game. It has to be real. It has to be credible. And finally, there ought to be consequences if it doesn't take place
  • Kerry: Russian delegation has put some ideas forward 'and we're grateful for that' - Live blog:
  • Kerry: In light of what happened, world wonders, watches closely whether Assad regime will live up to what it says

  • Harf: We have to keep forward momentum, can't let #Syria , Russians use this as stalling tactic; but understand this process will take time
  • Harf: The Geneva process is focused on how we can work with Russians to verify, secure, ultimately destroy #Syria 's chemical weapons
  • Harf: We don't think signing the CWC should be a substitute for handing over their stockpiles, can't be used as a stalling tactic #Syria
  • Harf on reports #Syria filed docs with UN about #CW convention: That action wouldn't be substitute for action we're talking about in Geneva

  • President Obama convenes a meeting of his cabinet members at the White House on September 12, though Secretary of State John Kerry was missing from the discussion. Kerry was in Geneva to discuss the Syrian chemical weapon situation. Obama told those gathered, “I am hopeful that the discussions that Secretary has with Foreign Minister Lavrov as well as some of the other players in this, will yield a concrete result.”
  • U.N. has received documents from Syria's government concerning joining chemical weapons convention, a spokesperson says
  • Analysis: Whether or not US strikes, Syria's regime looks set to survive

    President Barack Obama has insisted all along that the military strikes on Syria for which he now seeks congressional approval are not designed to pick a winner in that country's civil war. And that's bad news for those fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

    Two-and-a-half years into the rebellion, be it because of the military "facts on the ground" or the deadlock in the diplomatic arena, one point has become increasingly clear: the Assad regime is winning.

    It seems improbable that Assad is still in power, let alone prevailing on the battlefield, given his regime's ham-fisted handling of everything from a few boys writing anti-Assad graffiti in the backwater town of Dara’a in March 2011, to its alleged chemical weapons attacks in the suburbs of Damascus last week -- two events that bookend a war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives, cost some $85 billion, and laid waste to many of Syria's cities. But it's worth remembering that to win, all Assad needs to do is survive. By that measure, he may even be in less trouble today than he was two years ago.

    What's notable, in fact, is that despite its outrage over the gruesome death of some 1,400 people -- including more than 400 children -- in the suspected gas attack last week at Ghouta, the Obama administration is not even considering intervention on the scale necessary to bring down Assad -- something that rebel forces are clearly in no position to achieve without massive foreign military involvement.

    Read more.
  • In an interview with Russian state TV channel Rossiya 24, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad says he will send the documents required to join Chemical Weapons Convention over the next couple of days.

    Assad says that the threat of US intervention had no influence on his decision to relinquish Syria's chemical weapons, and if it wasn't for the Russian initiative Damascus would never have discussed the idea of turning over chemical weapons with anyone else.

    Assad added that any war against Syria would become a war that would destroy the entire region.
  • Assad: If it wasn't for the Russian initiative, we would never have discussed this [removing chemical weapons] with anyone else.
  • #Assad says Russian proposal, not threat of US intervention, influenced his decision to relinquish chemical weapons
  • President Obama meets with his Cabinet... missing is Secretary Kerry. #Syria

  • President Obama spoke briefly about the US-Russia talks in Geneva today at the beginning of a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room:

    "John Kerry is overseas and meeting on the topic that we spent a lot of time on over the last several weeks, the situation in Syria and how we can make sure that chemical weapons are not used against innocent people," the president says. "I am hopeful that the discussions that Secretary Kerry has with Foreign Minister Lavrov as well as some of the other players in this can yield a concrete result and I know that he is going to be working very hard over the next several days over the possibilities there."
  • Assad tells Russian TV: This is a 2-way street and (any arrangement) should be based on the US removing the threat of force [trans]. #Syria
  • In an interview with Russian state TV channel Rossiya 24, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad says he expects to start handing over information on chemical weapons to international groups on month after Damascus joins the Chemical Weapons Convention. [Reuters]
  • Obama says he is hopeful that discussions on #Syria between Kerry, Russia's Lavrov will have positive result-@Reuters
  • Assad tells Russian TV: #Syria will follow the standard procedure for getting rid of chemical weapons. But this is not a one-sided process.
  • Assad tells Rossiya 24: We don't have trust in or relations with the US. Russia is the only country [that can bring about an agreement].
  • Secretary of State John Kerry is in Geneva, Switzerland at this hour preparing for two days of diplomatic talks with Russian Foreign Sergey Lavrov regarding the crisis in Syria.

    The two diplomats are looking to hammer out an agreement on Russia's proposed plan for international control over Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.
  • Removing Syria's chemical weapons easier said than done

    As the wrangling begins over a United Nations Security Council resolution that would place Syria's chemical weapons under international control, experts say that removing or destroying the government’s considerable arsenal would be a logistical and political nightmare -- and might require a protracted cease-fire in Syria's civil war. But it can be done.

    "Technically, it's all possible," said Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commanding officer at the United Kingdom’s Joint Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Regiment, and current chief operating officer of chemical weapons consultancy SecureBio.

    De Bretton-Gordon cited the case of Iraq, where a portion of Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons stocks were destroyed in the mid-1990s. A slow process in the best circumstances, tracking down and destroying chemical weapons stockpiles took years in Iraq.

    The scale of the challenge is far larger in Syria, which is in the throes of a full-blown civil war.

    "There are calculations that to secure [Syria's chemical weapons], up to 75,000 ground troops are needed," said Dieter Rothbacher, a former U.N. weapons inspector in Iraq, in an interview with Reuters. "It took us three years to destroy that stuff under U.N. supervision in Iraq."

    Read more.
  • At Yahoo! News, Marc Young reports that the chemical weapons crisis in Syria is exposing issues in the US and Germany's diplomatic relationship: 

    Constrained by Germany’s jingoistic past and a looming election, the leader of the largest country in the European Union has been decidedly reluctant to follow President Barack Obama’s call for a robust response to the apparent use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war.

    And Merkel’s aversion to getting involved in the conflict has exposed rifts in the trans-Atlantic alliance by often leaving Berlin seemingly more in agreement with Moscow than Washington.

    “Is Germany drifting away from the West? There’s an interesting shift in thinking in Berlin,” Hans Kundnani, the editorial director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, told Yahoo News.

    Keenly aware of her countrymen’s deep skepticism of military interventions stemming from Nazi Germany’s responsibility for World War II, the naturally cautious Merkel has categorically ruled out German participation in any strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces — a position supported by a majority of Germans.

    “There’s a small glimmer of hope that diplomacy and politics will be given a chance. We must make use of this,” said Merkel on Wednesday at a campaign rally ahead of the German election on Sept. 22, according to the DPA news agency.

    However, many Germans also point to the apparent hypocrisy of what has been dubbed the “Merkel Doctrine” by the national media: wanting the country to act like an oversized Switzerland while sales of German weapons abroad are booming.

    Read more at  Yahoo! News.
  • Senator John McCain has some strong thoughts on Vladimir Putin's New York Times op-ed:

    Putin's NYT op-ed is an insult to the intelligence of every American

    — John McCain (@SenJohnMcCain) September 12, 2013

  • This video shows General Salim Idriss, the chief of staff of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), making a statement on a Russian proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under international control.

    In the video, Idriss declares the “unequivocal rejection of the Russian initiative”, according to the provided subtitles. However, he adds that the SMC is seeking the punishment of those responsible for using chemical weapons at the International Criminal Court in addition to the securing of the weapons.

    Source: Soori Hur via Storyful

  • In an interview with Russian state TV, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says his government has agreed to surrender its chemical weapons "in response to Russia's initiative and not because of the U.S. threat of attack", the Associated Press reports:

    Assad told Russia's state Rossiya 24 news channel in an interview that is set to be broadcast fully later Thursday that "Syria is transferring chemical weapons under international control because of Russia."

    He added that "the U.S. threats hadn't influenced" his government's decision.

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with the U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva Amb. Betty E. King after he arrives at Cointrin Airport in Geneva, September 12, 2013, before meetings begin with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the ongoing problems in Syria. (Reuters/Larry Downing)

  • Syria's FSA rebels have, the Associated Press reports, "blasted" the Russian plan.

    From the AP story:

    The top rebel commander, Gen. Salim Idris, says regime officials should be
    referred to the International Criminal Court for the alleged Aug. 21 chemical
    attack near the Syrian capital that killed hundreds.

    Idris, speaking for the Free Syrian Army, says "chemical weapons were the
    tool of the crime'' in the attack in Ghouta suburb.

    He says the FSA "categorically rejects the Russian initiative.''

    Idris' statement was broadcast on Thursday on pan-Arab satellite channels,
    hours ahead of talks in Geneva between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the Russian proposal.

  • Britain's Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has just told the UK Parliament that any deal on Syria's chemical weapons must identify all such arms and must ensure they don't fall into the "wrong hands". He also said that Syria may have the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the world.

    This support is made all the more urgent by the appalling crimes being committed in Syria. The UN Human Rights Council’s independent International Commission of Inquiry issued a harrowing report yesterday describing crimes against humanity and war crimes being committed by the regime and its forces, including indiscriminate shelling, sieges, massacres, murder, torture, rape and sexual violence, enforced disappearances, execution and pillage; and serious violations committed by some extremist anti-regime armed groups, which we also condemn. 

    “On top of this, we have now seen mass murder inflicted by the regime’s use of chemical weapons. So our third objective is to ensure a strong international response so that these barbaric weapons are not used again and that those responsible are held to account. The House debated this subject on the 29th August, and we have made it clear that we respect the view of the House. 

    Read  the full text of Hague's comments here.

    Meanwhile, in Istanbul, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said he doubts that President Bashar al-Assad will bring the arms under international control and that he is just buying time for new "massacres". 
    From Reuters:

    The Assad regime has not lived up to any of its pledges, it has won time for new massacres and continues to do so," Erdogan said in a speech in Istanbul. "We are doubtful that the promises regarding chemical weapons will be met.

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has published a an op-ed in the New York Times cautioning the US government against a military strike in Syria.  "Events surrounding Syria have prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders," the president wrote. "It is important to do so at a time of insufficient communication between our societies."

    Relations between us have passed through different stages.
    We stood against each other during the cold war. But we were also allies once, and defeated the Nazis together. The universal international organization — the United Nations — was then established to prevent such devastation from ever happening again.

    The United Nations’ founders understood that decisions affecting war and peace should happen only by consensus, and with America’s consent the veto by Security Council permanent members was enshrined in the United Nations Charter. The profound wisdom of this has underpinned the stability of international relations for decades.

    No one wants the United Nations to suffer the fate of the League of Nations, which collapsed because it lacked real leverage. This is possible if influential countries bypass the United Nations and take military action without Security Council authorization.

    The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders. A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

    Read the rest at the New York Times

  • Political stalemate threatens Syria chemical weapons removal

    As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov prepare to meet in Geneva on Thursday, hoping to find a political path to avoiding military intervention in the Syrian civil war, a messy and complicated political stalemate could be looming.

    Russia has rejected U.S. and French demands for a binding U.N. resolution that would put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control -- an idea proposed by Russia -- and condemn their use by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, with "very severe consequences" for Syrian non-compliance.

    And in Damascus, a senior government official said the Russian proposal is a "broad headline" that still needs to be developed. He said Syria was ready to sign a chemical weapons convention, but not if such a move is forced by foreign powers.

    The Russian government -- eager to avoid U.S. intervention in Moscow's ally Syria -- has seized on a divided congress and American public, who do not have much appetite for engaging in another war and accuse President Barack Obama's administration of not paying more attention to more pressing domestic issues, such as the rising debt ceiling and immigration

    Read more.
  • Former President Jimmy Carter, writing in the Washington Post, argues that the world now has a chance to end war in Syria:

    The only way to be assured that Syrian chemical weapons will not be used in the future is not through a military strike but through a successful international effort.

    Regardless of the postponed congressional vote regarding the use of military force, other actions should be taken to address the situation in Syria, including an urgent effort to convene without conditions the long-delayed peace conference the United States and Russia announced in May. A resolution in the U.N. General Assembly to condemn any further use of chemical weapons, regardless of perpetrator, would be approved overwhelmingly, and the United States should support Russia’s proposal that Syria’s chemical weapons be placed under U.N. control. A military strike by the United States is undesirable and will become unnecessary if this alternative proposal is strongly supported by the U.N. Security Council.

    If fully implemented in dozens of sites throughout Syria, this effort to secure the chemical weapons would amount to a cease-fire, with a large U.N. peacekeeping force deployed. In the best of circumstances, this could lead to convening the Geneva peace conference, perhaps including Iran, that could end the conflict.

  • The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and activists based in Al-Bab, Aleppo, reported on September 11 that “at least 11” people, including a Yemeni doctor, were killed in an airstrike on a hospital in Al-Bab, a town about 35km northeast of Aleppo. This video shows the aftermath of the strike, with people clearing away debris and rubble. No bodies are seen in the footage.

    Source: Albabfree/Storyful

  • Statement by Ambassador Samantha Power, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, on the situation in Syria

    Thank you, panel members, for addressing these important issues on the Responsibility to Protect. I’d like to thank the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General for organizing today’s dialogue.

    We are here today because in 2005 the nations of the world met in this Assembly and reached a consensus that the protection of civilians against the most horrific crimes known to man presents an urgent summons to each and all of us. All governments have a responsibility to protect their people from these crimes, and all nations have a stake in helping them meet that responsibility.

    Having joined that consensus, it is appalling to see what the Syrian government has wrought on its own people over the last two years. And yet even against this murderous backdrop, the events of August 21 stand out. On that day, the world watched with horror as the Assad regime deployed chemical weapons against its own people, poisoning over 1,000 men, women and children—hundreds of children—with a chemical nerve agent as many of them slept.

    When we focus on this attack, as we have of late, the question invariably arises: What about the tens of thousands of civilians who have died through more conventional means? Were they owed any less protection? Of course not. The mother who has to live without her five year-old daughter because she was killed by a sniper feels the pain no less searingly than the father whose five year-old son was asphyxiated in a sarin attack. All attacks on civilians are an outrage that should shock the conscience. We must also recognize that the use of chemical weapons crosses a line. These weapons are particularly grotesque, efficient, and indiscriminate. Their use can’t be reconciled with basic principles of humanity that apply, even in wartime. And their proliferation poses a correspondingly high risk to international peace and security, but, more concretely, to citizens in all countries. When the norm is violated, as it was on August 21, the violation cannot go unanswered, unless we are willing to see these weapons used again. And on this my government has spoken clearly: we are not.

    The consensus reached in September 2005 should not be code for necessitating military intervention. But R2P is a doctrine for prevention.

    It should have compelled Assad to protect his people rather than attack them, and it should have compelled his partners in the international community to step in earlier, lend advice and assistance, and prevent the situation from reaching its current metastatic proportions. It should have. Clearly, it is the understatement of the year to say we still have work to do.

    In the area of prevention there is much we can do. To offer some examples, we can prioritize atrocity prevention at the national level. For R2P to mean anything, governments must go beyond their general support for the World Summit outcome document and make it clear—from the Head of State downward—that the protection of civilians is a priority. This focus for us has clarified—this leadership by President Obama has clarified—the way in which we have worked to meet crises, from the Kivus to Rakhine State in Burma.

    Governments can organize to make sure that all of our national capabilities—diplomatic, development, financial, justice, and defense—are being honed and used to best effect in the service of atrocity prevention. Much has been made of President Obama’s Atrocity Prevention Board, but it is simply a high-level vehicle to press the rest of the government to help ensure we are working to deploy the full range of preventative tools we have to ensure civilians are protected.

    We can multilateralize our efforts. As I noted earlier, R2P recognizes that the prevention of atrocities is a matter of international concern. That’s why the recently adopted Arms Trade Treaty, which will help prevent the illicit flow of arms to atrocity perpetrators, is so important. It’s why peacekeeping missions should have the training and mandates they need, and it’s why we each need to support the UN Secretariat—including our dynamic colleague, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng. Given the important role that UN mediation capacity plays, I am pleased that the Friends of Mediation, which the U.S. recently joined, will be meeting at the ministerial level on the margins of the General Assembly opening session to advance support for this critical function.

    In conclusion, these are just three ideas—prioritize, organize, multilateralize—but for my government, they have provided an important place to start. I know your governments have your own approaches, and I look forward to hearing about and learning from them. The international consensus around R2P remains a signal achievement of multilateral cooperation and a testament to our common humanity. But as we share ideas, there is one thing on which I hope we can all agree: we have a great deal of work to do. The important framework that the Outcome Document created in 2005 remains more aspirational than it is real. Eight years and countless innocent lives later, we are the ones who have a responsibility to make it real.

  • Discussions underway on Syrian chemical weapons plan

    A day after President Barack Obama told the nation that Washington was considering a Russian diplomatic proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, tense behind-the-scenes negotiations -- some on a proposed United Nations resolution -- were underway among U.N. Security Council members.

    Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Moscow had "already handed over to the U.S. the plan for fulfilling the initiative for international control of Syrian chemical weapons," the Inter-fax news agency reported Wednesday. Lavrov gave no details of the plan, but said he would discuss it with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during their meeting in Geneva on Thursday.

    But while the Russian plan for Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons appeared to ease the crisis over possible U.S.-led strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a new potential for an impasse came quickly: Moscow rejected U.S. and French demands for a binding U.N. resolution with "very severe consequences" for Syrian non-compliance.

    In Damascus, a senior government official said the Russian proposal is still a "broad headline" that needs to be developed. He said Syria was ready to sign the chemical weapons convention, but not if such a move is forced by foreign powers.

    Asked about the difficulties of implementing the transfer and relinquishment of Syria's chemical weapons against the backdrop of a raging civil war in the country, Syrian Cabinet Minister Ali Haidar told The Associated Press: "There was no talk about moving and transferring control. There was talk about putting these weapons under international supervision."

    Read more.
  • Envoys from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council will meet in New York Wednesday to discuss plans to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control, diplomats have said. 

    Among the topics to be discussed by US, British, Chinese, French and Russian diplomats is the French draft resolution that would give the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad an ultimatum to give up its chemical arsenal or face punitive measures, a text that Russia has said is unacceptable.

    Our colleagues at Al Jazeera English have learned that there have been some slight changes to the original draft resolution so the French will present the new draft to the other members. 

  • Obama pays high political price for fumbling on Syria 

    The Obama administration may have found a temporary way to stave off defeat on the question of Syria, but the long-term political prognosis for the president’s handling of the crisis is dimmer: He will not emerge unscathed from one of the biggest foreign policy crises challenges of his time in office.

    For the moment, the administration has pulled back from its original proposal to launch limited air strikes against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, in the face of mounting opposition in the House and the Senate and all over the country. In a primetime address Tuesday night, the president asked Congress to postpone votes on a possible strike as the administration vetted a diplomatic solution put forward by Russia at the United Nations that would allow Syria to avert the attack by turning over its chemical weapon stockpiles to international control. Nine senators, meanwhile, worked on an alternate resolution to put Congress’ stamp of approval on the new international plan.

    The speech on Tuesday night capped off weeks of dizzying developments on Syria during which Obama seemed to be walking a delicate tight rope — selling the idea of military force to a war-weary public and Congress while also feverishly trying to avoid it.

    “Obviously, this has not been well-handled, and the president’s made a couple of 180-degree turns, from the red line to doing nothing to then the military action, and now this diplomatic solution,” said Larry Sabato, political scientist at the University of Virginia. “Here’s his problem: Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, independents are all opposed to going into Syria. Good luck.

    Read more.

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