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Dozens of seasoned militant fighters, including some midlevel planners, have traveled to Syria from Pakistan in recent months in what American intelligence and counterterrorism officials fear is an effort to lay the foundation for future strikes against Europe and the United States.
“We are concerned about the use of Syrian territory by the Al Qaeda organization to recruit individuals and develop the capability to be able not just to carry out attacks inside of Syria, but also to use Syria as a launching pad,” John O. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, told a House panel recently.
The extremists who concern Mr. Brennan are part of a group of Qaeda operatives in Pakistan that has been severely depleted in recent years by a decade of American drone strikes. But the fighters still bring a wide range of skills to the battlefield, such as bomb-building, small-arms tactics, logistics, religious indoctrination and planning, though they are not believed to have experience in launching attacks in the West.
Syria is an appealing base for these operatives because it offers them the relative sanctuary of extremist-held havens — away from drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan — as well as ready access to about 1,200 American and European Muslims who have gone there to fight and could be potential recruits to carry out attacks when they return home. Senior counterterrorism officials have voiced fears in recent months that these Western fighters could be radicalized by the country’s civil war.
22. The Geneva negotiation process is crucial for achieving a genuine political transition in Syria. The onus is on the Syrian regime to engage constructively with the process and take part in meaningful negotiations towards political transition as set out in the Geneva Communique. Any elections in Syria should only take place within this framework. We will continue promoting efforts to alleviate the suffering of civilians; including the 6.5 million people displaced, more than half of them children, at risk of becoming a lost generation. We commend Syria's neighbours for hosting 2.5 million refugees and recall the need to maintain sufficient assistance. We demand all parties, in particular the Syrian regime, allow unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid and medical care country-wide and across borders and including areas under siege, in full compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 2139. We are concerned that there are delays in the transfer process of chemical weapons out of Syria, and we urge Syria to comply with its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 2118 and the decisions of the OPCW Executive Council to verifiably eliminate its chemical weapons program in the shortest time possible. We will also continue, through the UN human rights bodies, to press for an end to and accountability for the grave human rights abuses and serious violations of international humanitarian law in Syria.
DIRECTOR GENERAL UZUMCU: Mr. Secretary, we are very pleased to receive you here at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. This is the first visit by a Secretary of State from the United States to our organization. We are, of course, very grateful for the continued support by the United States to the OPCW, and the latest one is the fact that in Syria we think that the success of this operation mission in Syria will further strengthen the norm against chemical weapons throughout the world. And we’ll look forward to our exchange of views today. Thank you very much.
SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you very much, Director General. I’m very happy to be here at the OPCW. Obviously, Foreign Minister Lavrov and I relied very heavily on the capacity of the OPCW as we negotiated a removal of the weapons from Syria, and we’re very grateful for OPCW’s expertise, for their commitment, for their courage, their willingness to help get the job done.
We are just about at the 50 percent removal mark. That’s significant, but the real significance will only be when we get all of the weapons out. Regrettably, the Syrians missed a March 15th date for destruction of facilities. We have some real challenges ahead of us now in these next weeks. We in the United States are convinced that if Syria wanted to, they could move faster. And we believe it is imperative to achieve this goal and to move as rapidly as possible because of the challenges on the ground.
So I really look forward to exchanging views. We have great admiration for the work done here quietly over a long period of time in a steady basis. And I think everybody who works here should be very, very proud of the fact that a weapon of mass destruction will be taken out of a country for the first time in its entirety in this kind of an arrangement, and we all look forward to achieving that important goal.
QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, do you see the Crimea situation having an impact on the cooperation with Russia when it comes to the Syria chemical weapons?
SECRETARY KERRY: I hope not. All I can say is I hope the same motivations that drove Russia to be a partner in this effort will still exist. This is bigger than either of our countries. This is a global challenge, and I hope Russia will stay hard to the task. Thank you.
Question: Now that Syrian Embassy personnel have been instructed to leave the United States, what happens to their buildings/facilities? Who is responsible for securing them? When did the Syrian Ambassador depart and can you provide information about how many Syrian diplomats this will impact? Were there American citizens employed by the Syrian Embassy?
Answer: The State Department is prepared to consider, on the basis of reciprocity, the appointment of a third State to which the Syrian government may entrust the custody of the premises of its mission, together with its property and archives, and the protection of its interests. Alternatively, the Syrian government may seek the Department’s approval of its assignment of these responsibilities to a member of its locally employed staff, who is either a citizen or legal permanent resident of the United States.
If such arrangements have not been finalized or approved by the Department before March 31, 2014, in accordance with Article 43 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Department will assume responsibility for ensuring the protection and preservation of the premises of the Syrian Mission, together with its property and archives.
The Syrian Ambassador departed Washington in December 2011. Yesterday’s action will impact foreign mission personnel at the Syrian Embassy. Other than the Honorary Consuls, located in Michigan and Texas, the Department is unaware of any U.S. citizens working at the Syrian Embassy.
The OPCW-UN Joint Mission confirmed today that two additional consignments including both Priority 1 and Priority 2 chemicals were delivered to the port of Latakia and loaded onto cargo vessels during the past week. The latest movements increased the portion of chemicals that have now been removed from Syria for destruction outside the country to more than 45%. The updated figures are as follow:Priority 1 chemicals removed: 29.5 %*Priority 2 chemicals removed: 82.6 %Total chemicals removed: 45.6 %Most recent consignments:Consignment #10: 17 March 2014
Consignment # 9: 14 March 2014* Includes all sulfur mustard, the only unitary chemical warfare agent in Syria’s arsenal