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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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.”