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The Syrian opposition feels "badly let down" by Washington's decision to collaborate with Moscow in addressing the Syrian regime's chemical weapons stockpile, Reuters reports. Diplomats are warning the Syrian National Coalition that it risks losing Western support "if it cannot adapt to new realities":
The rift that has alienated the Syrian opposition from the United States threatens to derail international efforts to end the two and a half year civil war, diplomatic and opposition sources said.
It comes as the war has turned into a something of a stalemate on the battlefield and the rebels had been looking to the United States to tilt the balance in their favor by intervening militarily to punish Assad for using chemical weapons.
The behind the scenes dispute, in which Saudi Arabia and Turkey appear to be siding with the opposition, developed last week as the United States and Russia made their deal to destroy Assad's chemical arsenal following a nerve gas attack on rebel areas of Damascus that killed hundreds, the sources said.
The agreement, from which the United States hopes a wider political settlement can emerge, has reduced the likelihood of a U.S. strike on Assad's forces that the opposition had hoped would weaken him militarily and force him to attend a planned new peace conference.The meeting would be the first of its kind between heads of state from the two countries in years, diplomats travelling with Hollande said.
SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody.
QUESTION: Good afternoon.
SECRETARY KERRY: Sorry to keep you waiting. We ran over with our friends from China.
SECRETARY KERRY: Beg your pardon?
QUESTION: Was lunch good?
SECRETARY KERRY: Lunch was good. Thank you, Matt.
As you all know, before I became Secretary, I spent 28 years in the United States Senate and I witnessed some great debates and some of the best senators there produced some of the best debates that I’ve seen – sometimes. And some of the senators, I learned, liked to debate about just about anything. As my pal John McCain was fond of saying, a fight not joined is a fight not enjoyed. But it was also in the Senate where I personally heard former Ambassador of the United Nations-turned-Senator from New York Daniel Patrick Moynihan end more than a few debates with his own bottom-line reminder: “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.” And those words are really worth using and focusing on as we head into next week’s General Assembly meeting in New York of the United Nations.
We really don’t have time today to pretend that anyone can have their own set of facts approaching the issue of chemical weapons in Syria. This fight about Syria’s chemical weapons is not a game. It’s real. It’s important. It’s important to the lives of people in Syria, it’s important to the region, it’s important to the world that this be enforced – this agreement that we came out of Geneva with. And for many weeks, we heard from Russia and from others, “Wait for the UN report. Those are the outside experts.” That’s a quote. “That is the independent gold standard.” That’s a quote.
Well, despite the efforts of some to suggest otherwise, thanks to this week’s long-awaited UN report, the facts in Syria only grew clearer and the case only grew more compelling. The findings in the Sellstrom report were as categorical as they were convincing. Every single data point – the types of munitions and launchers that were used, their origins, their trajectory, their markings, and the confirmation of sarin – every single bit of it confirms what we already knew and what we told America and the world. It confirms what we have brought to the attention of our Congress, the American people, and the rest of the world. The UN report confirms unequivocally that chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, were used in Syria. And despite the regime’s best efforts to shell the area and destroy the evidence, the UN interviewed more than 50 survivors – patients, victims, health workers, first responders. They documented munitions and subcomponents. They assessed symptoms of survivors, analyzed hair, urine, blood samples. And they analyzed 30 soil and environmental samples.
And what did they learn? They returned with several crucial details that confirmed that the Assad regime is guilty of carrying out that attack, even though that was not the mandate of the UN report. But anybody who reads the facts and puts the dots together, which is easy to do – and they made it easy to do – understands what those facts mean.
We, the United States, have associated one of the munitions identified in the UN report, the 122-millimeter improvised rocket, with previous Assad regime attacks. There’s no indication – none – that the opposition is in possession or has launched a CW variant of these rockets such as the kind that was used in the 21st of August attack.
Equally significant, the environmental, chemical, and medical samples that the UN investigators collected provide clear and compelling evidence that the surface-to-surface rockets used in this attack contained the nerve agent sarin. We know the Assad regime possesses sarin and there’s not a shred of evidence, however, that the opposition does.
And rocket components identified in the ground photos taken at the alleged chemical weapons impact location areas are associated with the unique type of rocket launcher that we know the Assad regime has. We have observed these exact type of rocket launchers at the Assad regime facilities in Damascus and in the area around the 21st of August.
So there you have it. Sarin was used. Sarin killed. The world can decide whether it was used by the regime, which has used chemical weapons before, the regime which had the rockets and the weapons, or whether the opposition secretly went unnoticed into territory they don’t control to fire rockets they don’t have containing sarin that they don’t possess to kill their own people. And then without even being noticed, they just disassembled it all and packed up and got out of the center of Damascus, controlled by Assad.
Please. This isn’t complicated. When we said we know what is true, we meant it. And now, before I head to New York for the UN General Assembly, we have a definitive UN report strengthening the case and solidifying our resolve. Now the test comes. The Security Council must be prepared to act next week. It is vital for the international community to stand up and speak out in the strongest possible terms about the importance of enforceable action to rid the world of Syria’s chemical weapons.
So I would say to the community of nations: Time is short. Let’s not spend time debating what we already know. Instead, we have to recognize that the world is watching to see whether we can avert military action and achieve, through peaceful means, even more than what those military strikes promised. The complete removal of Syria’s chemical weapons is possible here, through peaceful means. And that will be determined by the resolve of the United Nations to follow through on the agreement that Russia and the United States reached in Geneva, an agreement that clearly said this must be enforceable, it must be done as soon as possible, it must be real.
We need everyone’s help in order to see that the Security Council lives up to its founding values and passes a binding resolution that codifies the strongest possible mechanism to achieve the goal and to achieve it rapidly. We need to make the Geneva agreement meaningful and to make it meaningful in order to eliminate Syria’s CW program and to do it with transparency and with the accountability, the full accountability that is demanded here. It is important that we accomplish the goal in New York and accomplish it as rapidly as possible.
Thank you all.
QUESTION: Could you --
QUESTION: Secretary, on a related subject --
SECRETARY KERRY: If you have any questions – Marie’s going to answer some questions.
QUESTION: On a related subject, can we just ask you whether you think the President might meet with President Rouhani to test the seriousness of what Iran has said?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think the White House needs to speak to that at the appropriate time.
QUESTION: Is it a positive sign, coming from Rouhani in these – in this interview?
SECRETARY KERRY: I think Rouhani’s comments have been very positive, but everything needs to be put to the test and we’ll see where we go. And at the right moment, I think the White House and the State Department will make clear where we’re heading.
Responding to Russia's criticism the UN report's on an August 21st chemical attack in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry made a surprise appearance at the State Department's daily briefing Thursday to re-make the country's case against the Assad regime.
"We really don't have time today to pretend that anyone can have their own set of facts" regarding chemical weapons, Kerry said, calling for the UN Security Council to pass a resolution next week authorizing action to "rid the world of Syria's chemical weapons."
"The UN Security Council must be prepared to act next week," Kerry said. "It is vital for the international community to stand up...let's not spend time debating what we already know."
"For many weeks we heard from Russia and from others, wait for the U.N. report...despite the efforts of some to suggest otherwise...the facts in Syria only grew clearer and the case only grew more compelling," Kerry argued. "Every single data point, every single bit of it confirms what we already knew. The UN report confirms unequivocally that chemical weapons including the nerve gas Sarin were used in Syria,"
Speaking on behalf of the government, Qadri Jamil said that neither side was strong enough to win the conflict, which has lasted two years and caused the death of more than 100,000 people. Jamil, who is in charge of country's finances, also said that the Syrian economy had suffered catastrophic losses.
"Neither the armed opposition nor the regime is capable of defeating the other side," he said. "This zero balance of forces will not change for a while."
Meanwhile, he said, the Syrian economy had lost about $100bn (£62bn), equivalent to two years of normal production, during the war.
If accepted by the armed opposition, a ceasefire would have to be kept "under international observation", which could be provided by monitors or UN peace-keepers – as long as they came from neutral or friendly countries, he said.
Leaders of Syria's armed opposition have repeatedly refused to go to what is called Geneva Two unless Assad first resigns. An earlier conference on Syria at Geneva lasted for just one day in June last year and no Syrians attended.
When the Guardian asked what proposals the Syrian government would make at Geneva talks, Jamil said the regime would push for "an end to external intervention, a ceasefire and the launching of a peaceful political process in a way that the Syrian people can enjoy self-determination without outside intervention and in a democratic way."
"The paradox now is that the US is trying to give the SNC the leading role," added Jamil. "We're fed up with this monopolistic view."
Read more at the Guardian
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday he could not be 100 percent certain that a plan for the destruction of Syrian chemical weapons would be carried out successfully but he saw positive signs for hope."Will we be able to accomplish it all? I cannot be 100 percent sure about it," Putin told a gathering of journalists and Russia experts."But everything we have seen so far in recent days gives us confidence that this will happen."
“Too many donor
countries are not delivering the level of funds that is expected of them. While
economic times are tough, we are facing the largest man-made humanitarian
disaster in two decades and we have to seriously address it. The scale of this
crisis is unprecedented and some countries must start to show their concerns to
the crisis in Syria by putting their hands in their pockets.”.
“Countries such as France and Russia are failing to provide the humanitarian
support that is desperately needed. Donors must make good on their pledges and
ensure that the money is delivered as soon as possible. This is not the time
for empty promises. The situation demands committed funds in order to save
Fox News interviewed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday.
The interview, conducted by contributor Dennis Kucinich and Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Greg Palkot, will air Wednesday night during a two-hour edition of "Special Report with Bret Baier."
This is the second interview Assad has granted to American media in the past month following a lengthy conversation with PBS's Charlie Rose.
More on the Russia's opposition to the UN report and its methods. AFP reports:
Russia on Wednesday accused UN inspectors studying last month's chemical attack in Syria of ignoring "very factual" evidence provided by the Damascus regime, as Moscow and Washington continued to trade accusations over who was to blame for the attack.
Evidence related to the deadly August 21 incident "was given to Mr [Ake] Sellstrom who headed the group of UN inspectors," Russia's deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said after talks with Syria's leadership in Damascus. "We are upset that it did not receive adequate attention in the report," he said in remarks aired on Russian television.
In appendix 5 of their report, after describing the size and structure of two rocket delivery systems used, they go one step further and actually reveal the direction some of the rockets likely came from. Using standard field investigative techniques examining the debris field and impact area where the rockets struck, the report provides precise azimuths, or angular measurements, that allow us to work out the actual trajectory of the rockets.“Impact site number 1 (Moadamiya) and impact site number 4 (Ein Tarma),” the inspectors wrote, “provide sufficient evidence to determine, with a sufficient degree of accuracy, the likely trajectory of the projectiles.” They go on to say that 3 of the rockets they inspected had bearings of 34 and 35 degrees for 2 of the rockets that landed in Moadamiya, and 285 degrees for 1 of the rockets that landed in Ein Tarma.Connecting the dots provided by these numbers allows us to see for ourselves where the rockets were likely launched from and who was responsible.The two attack locations are located 16 kilometers apart, but when mapping these trajectories, the presumed flight paths of the rockets converge on a well-known military base of the Republican Guard 104th Brigade, situated only a few kilometers north of downtown Damascus and within firing range of the neighborhoods attacked by chemical weapons.According to declassified reference guides, the 140mm artillery rocket used on impact site number 1 (Moadamiya) has a minimum range of 3.8 kilometers and a maximum range of 9.8 kilometers. The Republican Guard 104th Brigade is approximately 9.5 km from the base. While we don’t know the firing range for the 330mm rocket that hit impact site number 4, the area is only 9.6km away from the base, well within range of most rocket systems.This isn’t conclusive, given the limited data available to the UN team, but it is highly suggestive and another piece of the puzzle.
"We are disappointed, to put it mildly, about the approach taken by the U.N. secretariat and the U.N. inspectors, who prepared the report selectively and incompletely," deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the state-run Russian news agency RIA in Damascus.
"Without receiving a full picture of what is happening here, it is impossible to call the nature of the conclusions reached by the U.N. experts ... anything but politicised, preconceived and one-sided," Ryabkov said after talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.
The chief UN chemical weapons inspector says his team will return to Syria "within weeks" to complete the investigation it had started before the Aug 21 gas attack of other alleged chemical weapons attacks in the country.
Ake Sellstrom told The Associated Press Wednesday the team will evaluate "allegations of chemical weapons use from both sides, but perhaps mainly from the Syrian government's side".
He said he doesn't currently think there is a need for more investigations of the Aug. 21 attacks, but said "if we receive any additional information it will be included next time we report".
He declined to specify where the inspectors would go or which specific events they would look more closely at.
The Syrian regime has handed Russia new materials implicating rebels in a chemical attack outside Damascus on August 21, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said after talks in Damascus.
"The corresponding materials were handed to the Russian side. We were told that they were evidence that the rebels are implicated in the chemical attack," Ryabkov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies after talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem.
Ryabkov also said Russia was disappointed with a UN report into the chemical weapons attack, saying it was selective and had ignored other episodes. "Without a full picture... we cannot describe the character of the conclusions as anything other than politicised, biased and one-sided," he said.
Thank you, Mr. President, for convening this important session on the first day of the 68th Session of the General Assembly, and thank you, Mr. Secretary-General, for your briefing. I would like to thank Dr. Sellstrom and his team for their important work, carried out with bravery and great care. What is happening in Syria demands the world’s attention and it demands urgent action.
More than 100,000 people have been killed, a generation of Syrians scarred, and a country and region forever changed.
As we have just heard, Dr. Sellstrom’s report confirms unmistakably that chemical weapons were used in Syria on August 21. We’ve seen the videos. We’ve heard from humanitarian workers. And yesterday we heard from the UN’s own experts. The stories are haunting – hospitals packed with people suffocating from poison gas. The images and testimonies are a call to all of us to action. As Assad waged war on his own people with the full force of his military– including chemical weapons on multiple previous occasions – the United Nations was not able to come together on a meaningful response.
The United States offered in-depth briefings by our leading intelligence officials, who shared with many of you the evidence that they had collected, and they responded to your questions. The evidence of the events of August 21 is clear: in the days before the attack, Assad’s chemical weapons experts prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to regime troops. They then fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 12 neighborhoods that the regime had been trying to clear of opposition forces. It defies logic to think that the opposition infiltrated this regime-controlled territory to fire rockets on its own opposition-controlled areas—and only into opposition-controlled areas—on a massive scale.
After the chemical weapons attack, senior regime military officers reviewed the results, and the regime increased its shelling of these same neighborhoods in the days that followed. The United States has studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site, and our samples tested positive for sarin gas, just as Dr. Sellstrom’s samples did. And let’s remember here today that every reference to a “biomedical sample” refers to a person, a flesh and blood human being who suffered a monstrous attack. The 1,400 people killed in the attack are not here to testify today about what happened. The more than 400 children will never wake up to tell us their dreams for their futures.
For a crime of this magnitude, it is not enough to say “chemical weapons were used,” anymore than it would have been enough to say that “machetes were used” in Rwanda in 1994. We must condemn the user, and here we must acknowledge what the technical details of the UN report make clear: only the regime could have carried out this large-scale chemical weapons attack, the largest attack in 25 years.
The 12-centimeter rockets that the UN says were used in the attack and that tested positive for sarin are the same rockets used by the regime in previous attacks. We have reviewed thousands of open source videos related to the current conflict in Syria and have never once observed the opposition manufacturing or using this style of rocket. We also learned yesterday in the Security Council that the quality of the sarin was higher than that of the sarin used in Saddam Hussein’s program. And the rockets found on the site were professionally made and, according to Dr. Sellstrom, they bore none of the characteristics of jerry-rigged, improvised weapons. They had sophisticated barometric fuses to disperse the nerve agent in the air and not on impact. This was a professionally executed massacre by the regime, which is known to possess one of the world’s largest undeclared stockpiles of sarin. To think otherwise is to willfully blind oneself to the facts that have been presented.
Assad’s use of chemical weapons crossed the world’s redline and the international community has a responsibility not to stand by while Assad uses weapons that the world long ago agreed should never be used. And we all must recognize that the price of failing to hold Assad accountable is just too steep. The risks could extend well beyond Syria to the region and beyond. The use of chemical weapons anywhere in the world is a colossal threat to the security of people everywhere.
The progress made last Saturday in discussions between the United States and Russia marks an important step toward moving Syria's chemical weapons under international control so that they may ultimately be destroyed. This framework seeks the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons, which could end the threat that these weapons pose not only to the Syrian people but to the region and to the world. In order for the framework to be implemented in a transparent, expeditious, and verifiable manner, the Security Council must be prepared to back up the agreement reached and to enforce it through a robust, binding resolution. There must be consequences for non-compliance and for any obstruction or any delay. We must be willing to hold the Assad regime to account to live up to its public commitments, and that requires meaningful action in New York in order to ensure that the officials we send to carry out the destruction and removal of Syria’s chemical weapons have the mandate and the tools that they need to do so, and do not themselves become unwitting bystanders to continued obstruction or further chemical weapons use by Assad’s forces.
Mr. Secretary-General, the UN has a crucial role to play here, supporting and working alongside the OPCW and member states. We know that the OPCW will be asked to take special steps to enable the quick destruction of the Syrian chemical weapons program, including a stringent verification process. As I said earlier today in the Security Council, the degree of difficulty here, on a scale of 1 to 10, is an 11. We need to maximize the chances for success by giving the mission our strong backing. We must reinforce this effort through the Security Council to ensure verification and effective implementation. We hope that states will also step forward -- as my government has committed to do -- to support the OPCW and the UN in their efforts.
Finally, whether by chemical weapons or by conventional weapons, the violence against civilians in Syria has gone on too long and it must stop. An agreement on the destruction and removal of chemical weapons is not a substitute for a political solution. The 100,000 or more dead Syrians makes it gravely clear that a political transition is urgently needed to end the violence. We, in the United States, remain committed to convening a Geneva conference as soon as possible and practicable.
Thank you, Mr. Secretary-General and thank you. Mr. President.