Story Summary

Crisis in Syria

Western powers are debating using military power against Syria’s government to counter a chemical weapons attack in Damascus’ suburbs.

U.S. President Barack Obama said there’s no doubt that Syria launched chemical weapons attacks against its own people. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has blamed the August 21 attack on rebels.

British Prime Minister David Cameron opened an emergency session of the House of Commons on Syria by saying the debate is about “how to respond to one of most abhorrent uses of chemical weapons in a century” — not about regime change or invasion.

 

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By Greg Botelho, CNN

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made his case Thursday to the American people and the world for “a constructive approach” to contentious issues including his nation’s nuclear program, arguing that failing to engage “leads to everyone’s loss.”

“We must work together to end the unhealthy rivalries and interferences that fuel violence and drive us apart,” Rouhani said in an op-ed published Thursday evening on the Washington Post’s website.

It’s not the first time a leader from a country often at odds with the United States has used its newspapers to convey his or her views. Just last week, for instance, Russian President Vladimir Putin argued against international military intervention in Syria and jabbed his U.S. counterpart for saying Americans should consider themselves “exceptional” — a remark that quickly elicited derision from across the U.S. political spectrum.

But Rouhani’s tone differed from Putin’s, echoing the theme of “prudence and hope” and the promise of more positive engagement with the rest of the world that helped propel him to an election win in June.

“To move beyond impasses, … we need to aim higher,” he said. “Rather than focusing on how to prevent things from getting worse, we need to think — and talk — about how to make things better.”

Contending “the age of blood feuds” and the idea of diplomacy as a “zero-sum game” no longer apply in a “changed” world, Rouhani said leaders should engage each other “on the basis of equal footing and mutual respect.”

“My approach to foreign policy seeks to resolve … issues by addressing their underlying causes,” he said. “We must work together to end the unhealthy rivalries and interferences that fuel violence and drive us apart.”

Chief among those issues, for Iran, is its nuclear program. Iranian officials have insisted its aim is peaceful and for energy purposes only, but skeptical U.S., Israeli and other officials accuse Tehran of working to develop nuclear weapons. Iran’s lack of openness on the issue and its perceived lack of cooperation with international nuclear authorities, have led to stringent international sanctions and increased tensions in the region.

In his opinion column Thursday, Rouhani sought to frame the debate over what he called “our peaceful nuclear energy program.” This program, he said, is tied into not only addressing Iran’s energy needs but also into establishing its place in the world.

“To us, mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect, and our consequent place in the world,” he said.

The Washington Post column appears to be part of a U.S.-targeted public relations initiative by Rouhani, coming a day after he talked with NBC News.

In that interview, Rouhani said, “We have never pursued or sought a nuclear bomb and we are not going to do so.”

There’s little dispute Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is Iran’s most powerful figure. Still, Rouhani said Thursday that he and his delegation will head to New York with the “full power and has complete authority” to make a deal with others on nuclear matters.

The Iranian president also talked about trading letters with Obama this summer, an exchange he called “positive and constructive.”

“It could be subtle and tiny steps for a very important future,” Rouhani told NBC, according to video on the network’s website. “I believe the leaders in all countries could think in their national interests and that they should not be under the influence of (interest) groups.”

Rouhani’s Washington Post op-ed published a few hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry — also speaking in Washington — characterized some of the new Iranian president’s remarks as “very positive.”

Yet he offered his compliment with a caveat: “Everything needs to be put to the test, and we’ll see where we go.”

Kerry punted on a question of whether Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama will next week when both attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

Asked the same question Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said “there are currently no plans” for such a face-to-face meeting though he also didn’t rule it out.

And Carney did hint the United States is open to talks with Iran — with whom it has feuded regarding Iran’s nuclear program, a dispute that’s led to harsh international sanctions and raised the specter of war in the region — to “test” whether Tehran is sincere in its hope to improve its international standing.

“I think it’s fair to say that (Obama) believes there is an opportunity for diplomacy when it comes to the issues that have presented challenges to the United States and our allies with regards to Iran,” Carney said. “And we hope that the Iranian government takes advantage of this opportunity.”

In fact, there were high-level talks Thursday — involving Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Zarif called the meeting “constructive,” saying it involved “satisfactory negotiations” on various issues such as Iran’s nuclear program, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency.

Ban’s office also issued a positive statement on the meeting, saying the two “discussed Iran’s growing cooperation with the international community on a host of issues, including the nuclear file, as well the role Iran could play in promoting a political solution to the conflict in Syria.”

This cooperation has been spearheaded by Rouhani, himself a former nuclear negotiator who vowed during his campaign to try to reduce tensions between Iran and the outside world.

That includes expressing openness in talks on its nuclear program. The 64-year-old cleric, who is considered a moderate, said last month that as long as there are “negotiations without threats, the way for interaction is open.”

By Holly Yan, CNN

U.N. investigators are planning to return to Syria soon to follow up on several more allegations of chemical weapons use.

Ake Sellstrom, the head of the inspection team that visited after an August 21 attack, told CNN that the next visit could take place as early as next week.

The news will probably please Russia, which slammed a recent U.N. chemical weapons report as “one-sided” and called for inspectors to return to Syria.

Russia denounces U.N. report

Soon after Western countries said the U.N. findings implicated the Syrian regime in using sarin gas, Russia fired back, calling the report “distorted.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov also told Russia Today that the report was built on insufficient information. He said Russia has its own evidence from the site of the August 21 attack that, according to U.S. estimates, killed more than 1,400 people.

“This analyses is not finished, so the point here is not about accusing parties. But the point is … that those inspectors of the U.N. should come back to Syria to complete their investigation,” Ryabkov told Russia Today.

In the same interview, he said Syria gave Russia evidence that implicates rebels in the August 21 attack.

“This confirmation and this evidence has been transmitted to the Russian side … and we are in the process of studying those,” he said. There was no mention of what the evidence was.

Russia has been a strong ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, and Russian defense contracts with Syria have probably exceeded $4 billion.

Moscow’s reaction to the U.N. report was starkly different from those of the United States and France.

“Based on our preliminary review of information contained in the report, several crucial details confirm the Assad regime’s guilt in carrying out this attack,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

She said one of the munitions identified in the report, a 120 mm improvised rocket, has been linked to previous attacks by al-Assad’s regime, and “we have no indications that the opposition has manufactured or used this style rocket.”

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said his country also believes the report proves the Syrian regime used chemical warfare in opposition strongholds near Damascus.

Securing Syria’s chemical weapons: Mission impossible?

Syrian government claims a win

U.N. Security Council members will probably meet again Wednesday to try to hammer out a resolution to get Syria to give up its chemical weapons.

Reaching a deal will be tough. The U.S. and France want to include the threat of military action in case Syria doesn’t comply, but Russia doesn’t want any wording that could allow the use of force.

The latest bickering came just days after Russia and the United States reached a rare agreement on Syria — a plan for eliminating the country’s chemical weapons stockpile. Even Syria agreed to the plan, and the U.S. has held back on possible military action while diplomatic options play out.

But even before seeing a Security Council resolution, the Syrian regime claimed an international win.

Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi cited “major achievements made by the Syrians in facing the universal war,” the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported Wednesday.

Al-Halqi also told the Syrian Cabinet about “brilliant victories of the Syrian diplomacy realized … in terms of preventing the U.S. from launching a military aggression against Syria.”

CNN’s Jo Shelley, Samira Said and Alla Eshchenko contributed to this report.

TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

By Josh Levs and Holly Yan, CNN

U.N. weapons inspectors returned “overwhelming and indisputable” evidence of the use of nerve gas in Syria, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday, calling the findings “beyond doubt and beyond the pale.”

syriachemicalweapons

The inspectors’ 38-page report was released after Ban briefed Security Council members on its contents. The team found what it called “clear and convincing evidence” that the nerve agent sarin was delivered by surface-to-surface rockets “on a relatively large scale” in the suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus on August 21.

“It is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988, and the worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century,” Ban said. “The international community has a responsibility to ensure that chemical weapons never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare,” he said.

Ban called the attack “a war crime” and a violation of treaties banning the use of chemical weapons that date back to 1925. But the inspectors’ mandate did not include assigning blame for the attack, and Ban would not speculate on who launched the attack.

And Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador, said a preliminary review of the report points toward forces loyal to al-Assad.

“The regime possesses sarin, and we have no evidence that the opposition possesses sarin,” Power said. “It defies logic” to think members of the opposition would have infiltrated a regime-controlled area to fire on opposition-controlled areas.

Britain, France, and NATO have also said al-Assad’s regime was behind the attack. But Russia is Syria’s leading ally, and Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin maintained Moscow’s stance that Syrian rebels might be to blame.

Such suggestions “cannot be simply shrugged off,” Churkin said, and statements insisting that the opposition could not have launched the attack “are not as scientific and grounded in reality as the actual situation could be.” He questioned why rebel forces didn’t report major losses in the August 21 chemical attack, which the United States says may have killed more than 1,400, including hundreds of civilians.

Samples examined

The August 21 attack led to U.S. calls for military action against Syria, which denies its forces unleashed chemical weapons and blamed rebel fighters for the deaths. Syria has since agreed to join the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention and hand over its chemical arsenal to international inspectors, with the United States and Russia laying out a fast-paced framework for Damascus to follow.

Monday’s report presents a stark picture of the damage that can be inflicted by a nerve agent like sarin, one of three types of poison gas Syria is believed to have stockpiled.

“Survivors reported that following an attack with shelling, they quickly experienced a range of symptoms, including shortness of breath, disorientation, eye irritation, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and general weakness,” Ban said. “Many eventually lost consciousness. First responders described seeing a large number of individuals lying on the ground, many of them dead or unconscious.”

The weather made things worse. Falling temperatures at the time of the attack meant the downward movement of air, allowing the gas “to easily penetrate the basements and lower levels of buildings and other structures where many people were seeking shelter,” Ban said.

Inspectors interviewed survivors and first responders, collected hair, urine and blood samples and took soil and environmental samples from the sites where the rockets fell. The secretary-general said the team “adhered to the most stringent protocols available for such an investigation, including to ensure the chain of custody for all samples.”

More than 100,000 people had already been killed in Syria before August 21, according to the United Nations. Another 2 million have fled the country, most of them taking refuge in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq.

It was not immediately clear how the report would affect events on the ground. The opposition Syrian National Coalition said the findings “demand a unified and decisive response by the international community.”

“If the world does not act now, this war will continue, and thousands more will die,” Najib Ghadbian, the coalition’s representative to the United Nations, said in a written statement. “The people of Syria look to the U.N. Security Council to do everything in its power to stop this conflict and hold the Syrian regime responsible for its criminal actions.”

In Washington, the White House announced that President Barack Obama would waive restrictions on exporting chemical protective gear to provide that equipment to the opposition and train “select, vetted members” in its use. American equipment will also be provided to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the international body that monitors compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention. It will be OPCW inspectors who are likely to carry out Syria’s promised disarmament.

The team did identify two types or rockets it said were used to deliver the gas and their trajectories, and international observers have said those weapons are not known to be in the hands of rebels battling the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Australian U.N. Ambassador Gary Quinlan, who is currently serving as president of the Security Council, said the report bolsters his country’s stance. It “confirms, in our view, that there is no remaining doubt that it was the regime that used chemical weapons.”

Also Monday, Turkish fighter jets downed a Syrian helicopter near the border between the two countries Monday, Turkey’s semiofficial Anatolia News Agency reported, citing Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc. Syria’s state news agency SANA said the helicopter was watching for “terrorists” crossing the border and erroneously strayed into Turkish airspace, but was on its way back across the border when shot down.

Russia slams U.S. remarks on agreement

Even as the world awaited the U.N. inspectors’ report Monday, Russia openly bickered with the United States about the agreement they struck in Geneva over the weekend.

The framework they laid out calls for a U.N. resolution demanding that Syria’s chemical weapons be placed under international control. Security Council powers are now trying to put that framework into a resolution. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday accused U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry “and his Western allies” of misunderstanding the deal, according to Russia’s state-run Itar-Tass news agency.

Lavrov said the deal does not say the U.N. resolution will be under Chapter VII of the U.N. charter, which potentially authorizes the use of force — and comments by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the any resolution will need to include the possibility of force “show unwillingness to read the document” that Russia and the United States endorsed.

The agreement states that if there is noncompliance “or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the U.N. Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter.” But it does not specifically state that the resolution being sought now will be under that chapter.

Russia holds veto power on the council. But Kerry told reporters Monday that “Should diplomacy fail, the military option is still on the table.”

“If the Assad regime believes that this is not enforceable, then they will play games,” he said.

According to the plan, Syria must submit a full list of its chemical weapons stockpile within a week. International inspectors must be on the ground in the country by November, and all production equipment must be destroyed by the end of November.

By the middle of next year, all chemical weapons material must be destroyed, according to the agreement. But the process of securing and destroying Syria’s cache of chemical weapons — in the middle of a civil war — may be a logistical nightmare.

CNN’s Joe Vaccarello, Nick Paton Walsh, Joe Sterling, Saad Abedine and Hamdi Alkhshali contributed to this report.

TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

By Holly Yan, CNN

Now comes the real test. Of Syria’s sincerity. Of Russia’s resolve. Of America’s gamble.

Over the weekend, the U.S. and Russia hashed out a new plan to get Syria to give up control of its chemical weapons. Syria says it welcomes the plan.

But will the war-torn country actually hand over of the world’s biggest stockpile of chemical weapons? Or is this just a delay tactic to get the world off its back? And if President Bashar al-Assad doesn’t comply, what next?

We’ll find out in the coming days. Syria has until next week to provide a full list of all its chemical weapons, and where it’s storing them. Today, we hear from a U.N. report on whether poison gas was used in an attack on Damascus suburbs on August 21. But here’s the hitch: the report won’t say who used it — the regime or the rebels.

As you begin your first day back at work after the weekend, here’s a Q&A that’ll bring you up to speed on what happens next.

What does the deal say?

The four-page “Framework for Elimination of Syrian Chemical Weapons” basically says:

– Within one week, Syria must submit a full list of its chemical weapons stockpile.

– By November, international inspectors must be on the ground in the country.

– Before the end of November, the inspectors should complete their initial survey of the weapons sites.

– Also before the end of November, all production and mixing or filling equipment must be destroyed.

– By the middle of next year, all chemical weapons material must be destroyed.

That’s quite ambitious. Will it have any teeth once the U.N. weighs in?

It’s true that plans often get watered down at the U.N. This one goes to Security Council members as early as today. There, members will craft a resolution that’ll keep the process under review and allow the U.N. to consider the use of force if Syria fails to comply. “If the Assad regime believes that this is not enforceable, then they will play games,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday. French President Francois Hollande has said that the council might vote on it by the end of the week.

‘Use of force’? Hasn’t Russia consistently said that’s a no-go?

Yes, and it’s still standing firm on that. So what happens if Syria doesn’t comply? More on that below.

Isn’t there big news coming today?

A long-awaited report by U.N. weapons inspectors will be released today, but it’ll probably only confirm what many already suspect — that chemical weapons were used near Damascus on August 21. The United States says more than 1,400 people, including children, were gassed to death in that attack. And that incident set off the flurry of events that has brought us to this point today. But what the U.N. report won’t say is this: Who was behind the attack — the regime or the rebels?

So, when is the first real test of Syria’s sincerity?

Next week. The regime has until then to provide its full list: How big is its stockpile, what kinds are they, and where are they stored.

How big is the stash?

U.S. intelligence believes Syria has about 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, most of it sarin and VX stored as unmixed components, Kerry said last week. Sarin and VX are nerve gases that can cause convulsions, paralysis, respiratory failure or death. And they may be stored in some 50 different sites, says the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel.

How many inspectors will it take to get rid of it all?

No one’s really sure. The Russian-U.S. plan doesn’t specify a number. It says the inspectors will come from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the U.N. may have a role. However, David Kay, a former U.N. and U.S. weapons inspector, thinks it’ll take 500 to 1,000 people just to secure the sites.

What are the major challenges?

Where do we begin? First off, there’s a civil war going on. No one’s brought up if troops will be needed to protect the inspectors as they go about their work.

Then there’s the matter of where the weapons will be taken, and how.

The Russian-U.S. plan mentioned the possibility of collecting and destroying them in the coastal area of Syria, which is under government control. But who would protect the convoys headed there? Will the regime fully cooperate? And will rebels agree to a ceasefire as the weapons are being moved?

The U.S. and Russia say they’re working on the details. They say they’ll submit something in the next few days.

Given these mammoth challenges, how feasible is it that all stockpiles can be destroyed by mid-2014?

That’s a question worth asking. To put things in perspective, U.N. inspectors who were searching for Saddam Hussein’s stocks of chemical weapons criss-crossed Iraq for seven years in the 1990s. They had unrestricted freedom of movement. And even though they were dealing with an obstructive regime, at least they were not trying to work during a war.

How current is our intelligence about where these sites are? What if Syria’s moved its stash?

In a way, Syria is on the honor system, especially since both U.S. officials and Syrian rebels suspect the regime has been moving around parts of its stockpile.”I think we may know where they were, and we may know where maybe a majority are now,” Kay says. “But look, it’s going to be up to the Syrians to disclose where they are and the amounts that they have.”

Last week, Gen. Salim Idriss, head of the rebel Free Syrian Army, said he had information that the regime has started to move chemical weapons and materials into Lebanon and Iraq. Iraq denied the allegation, calling it “cheap propaganda.”

So, the ball’s in Syria’s court — so to speak. What if it doesn’t comply?

Remember that resolution we talked about earlier that the Security Council is trying to draft? It allows for use of force to compel Syria to cooperate.

But Russia’s against that, right?

Yes, Russia has veto power. And it’s consistently said it won’t stand for military strikes on its ally Syria.

In that case, what happens?

The U.S. might go it alone. That option’s not off the table. “If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act,” President Barack Obama has said. Kerry reiterated the point Monday: “The military option is still on the table.”

Finally, is the situation on the ground any better?

Unfortunately, no. The bloodshed hasn’t stopped for a day. At least 91 people were killed across Syria on Sunday, including six children, the opposition group Local Coordination Committees of Syria said. CNN cannot independently verify daily death tolls, but the United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed in Syria since 2011.

CNN’s Matt Smith, Nick Paton Walsh, Tim Lister, Laura Smith-Spark and Tom Cohen contributed to this report.

TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

(CNN) — Russia and the United States announced Saturday that they have reached a groundbreaking deal on a framework to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, after talks in Switzerland.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stood side-by-side as they set out a series of steps the Syria government must follow.

Syria must submit within one week a comprehensive list of its chemical weapons stockpile, Kerry said. International inspectors must be on the ground no later than November, he said.

The framework also envisages the destruction of all Syria’s chemical weapons by the middle of next year.

If Syria does not comply with the procedures to eliminate its chemical weapons, the threat of force could be included in a draft U.N. Security Council resolution, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Saturday.

“We’ve committed to impose measures under Chapter 7 of the United Nations Security Council,” he said.

Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter leaves open the ultimate possibility for the Security Council to consider the use of force if Syria fails to comply, but other options will be debated.

Questioned by reporters, Kerry backed off the idea of force, saying he won’t specify what the remedy “might be for circumstances we don’t even know yet.”

He did say that President Barack Obama reserves the right to defend the US and US interests. However, he said, “the president also wants to find a diplomatic solution.”

Kerry said the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must allow immediate and “unfettered” access to international inspectors.

But he said there shouldn’t be a problem reaching Syria’s chemical weapons sites provided the al-Assad regime cooperates, since Syria has moved its chemical weapons into areas where it has tighter control.

This will make it easier for U.N. inspectors to get to them despite the ongoing civil war, he said.

The United States and Russia have reached a shared assessment on the amount and type of chemical weapons possessed by the al-Assad regime, Kerry added.

He praised Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Lavrov for seizing the initiative that resulted in the Geneva talks being called at short notice this week.

News of the deal came after talks extended into a third day.

On Friday, Kerry and Lavrov also signaled their intent to meet again, on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York later this month.

The prospect of yet another round of negotiations in the next few weeks pointed to a potentially bigger endgame for the United States and Russia in the hastily arranged meeting they began on Thursday — to restart parallel talks on the broader issue of ending the Syrian civil war.

That’s not to say all of the many outstanding issues on Syria’s chemical weapons have been resolved.

Senior U.S. administration officials told reporters on condition of not being identified the main sticking point was what consequences al-Assad and his government should face over their alleged chemical weapons use.

These officials have no expectations Russia would agree to any U.N. resolution that included authorization for possible military force against Syria. The United States, therefore, will not insist it be included.

That runs counter to Obama’s call for the international community to take action, including a potential military strike, for what the United States and allies call a chemical weapons attack by al-Assad’s forces last month outside Syria’s capital that they say killed more than 1,400 people.

‘No change’ in U.S. military posture

Obama has threatened to act alone, if necessary, and his administration credits that threat with Russia’s surprise proposal last week to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons arsenal to international control.

Outside of the United Nations, however, administration officials insisted they would not take the military threat off the table.

A senior defense official said there has been “no change” in the military’s planning or readiness levels and commanders have not been instructed to change their “posture” in any way.

Opinion: Is diplomacy the harder solution in Syria?

Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition is due to appoint a new interim prime minister Saturday, Khalid Saleh, head of the Syrian National Coalition’s media office, told reporters in Istanbul.

As world powers look at the possibility of a future resumption of peace talks in Geneva to resolve the Syrian crisis, Saleh said Friday that any such prospect looks “tremendously different after the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.”

He added, “While we were previously talking about sitting at the table negotiating, what we are looking for at this point is an enforced transitional agreement where we take the power from the hands of the Assad regime and give it to the Syrian people.”

Chemical weapons report expected Monday

The United Nations — and especially its Security Council, including permanent members the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — could play a key role in the international community’s response to Syria. And a report by its inspectors on the August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus could be pivotal in guiding where countries come down on the issue.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to present the report to the Security Council at 11 a.m. ET Monday, three diplomatic sources said. Ban said Friday that he believes it “will be an overwhelming report that chemical weapons were used.”

The big questions are by whom and, if that’s settled, what the world should do about it.

Al-Assad and other Syrian officials have vehemently denied their forces were responsible, despite assertions by Obama and others to the contrary.

In Turkey, U.S. soldiers guard against Syrian missile threat

Russia has stood by its longtime ally Syria, challenging the validity of the U.S. claims. At the same time, and as the threat of U.S.-led strikes loomed, Moscow raised its proposal on Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles and working through the U.N. — this after, time and again, blocking U.N. action involving Syria.

Al-Assad quickly agreed, leading to the talks between Kerry and Lavrov in Geneva that began Thursday. Syria also told the United Nations on Thursday that it has sent the paperwork for joining the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans such armaments.

The Syrian submission was being reviewed by U.N. lawyers. If deemed sufficient, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would register it and Syria would officially be a member state in the convention.

The convention would become legally binding on Syria 30 days after it formally joins, meaning al-Assad’s government would have to permit inspections at that time. Another 30 days after that, Syria would have to declare its chemical weapons stockpiles.

Some U.S. intelligence analysts believe it’s known where most of Syria’s chemical arsenal is stored, according to two U.S. officials familiar with internal discussions. But others say the United States might not be able to verify the location of up to 50% of them.

At the State Department on Friday, spokeswoman Marie Harf said that “verifying, accounting for securing and destroying a large stockpile of chemical weapons takes time,” adding that “it’s very difficult to do, particularly in an active war zone.”

Syrian crisis: Keeping up with key developments

Meanwhile, as the diplomatic efforts continue, those on the ground are caught up in the misery of the Syrian conflict.

The U.N. estimates more than 100,000 people have been killed since the civil war began in 2011, in addition to more than 2 million becoming refugees and over 4 million being displaced within Syria.

An interview with former FBI agent Ali Soufan

By Jethro Mullen, CNN

If Vladimir Putin wanted to get Americans’ attention, he seems to have done a pretty good job.

vladimirputin

The Russian president’s op-ed article arguing against military intervention in Syria, published on The New York Times’ website late Wednesday, set off a flurry of reactions — some outraged, some impressed, and some just plain bemused.

Democratic Senator Robert Menendez said the piece made him almost want to throw up.

Putin said he had written the opinion piece in order “to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders.”

But he appeared to have raised some peoples’ hackles with the last paragraph in which he disputed the idea of American exceptionalism.

It was a reference to President Barack Obama’s address Tuesday night, in which he said that while America can’t be a global cop, it ought to act when in certain situations.

“That’s what makes us exceptional,” Obama said. “With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

Putin’s answer to that?

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation,” he wrote.

He concluded with the line, “We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

‘Hey Putin’

That didn’t go down well with everyone.

“Hey Putin, next time you wanna write a letter to convince America about something, how about you skip saying we’re not exceptional? #rude,” tweeted Sarah Rumpf, a political consultant in Florida.

Other social media users suggested Putin’s talk of equality didn’t chime with his government’s treatment of homosexuals.

“In his open letter Putin says ‘God created us all equal’ – guess he forgot about the gays & his discriminatory laws,” tweeted Kristopher Wells, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta.

Earlier this year, Putin signed a law that bans the public discussion of gay rights and relationships where children might hear it. Violators can be fined and, if they are foreigners, deported.

Russia’s wars

The Russian president also annoyed some people by warning against military action without U.N. Security Council approval.

“Man who launched military action in Georgia and Chechnya without UN say-so says wars without it are illegal?” tweeted the journalist John Podhoretz.

Russia blames Georgia for starting the war between the two countries in 2008 during which Russian troops occupied two breakaway territories under Georgian control, as well as large parts of Georgia.

And Moscow regards the two wars with separatists in Chechnya as internal conflicts.

Some Twitter users unearthed a previous op-ed that Putin wrote for The New York Times about the first Chechen conflict, in 1999.

Putin, then the prime minister of Russia, struck a different tone in that piece in which he sought to explain Russia’s military action.

“No government can stand idly by when terrorism strikes,” he wrote. “It is the solemn duty of all governments to protect their citizens from danger.”

“Not a word on UN or Pope or Int’l law,” Philip Gourevitch, a staff writer at The New Yorker, commented about the 1999 article. (Putin mentions the pope in his op-ed this week as being among those opposed to a U.S. strike against Syria.)

Senator’s stomach turns

The overall tone of Putin’s latest broadside was too much for Senator Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, who said he read the article at dinner on Wednesday.

“I almost wanted to vomit,” said Menendez. “I worry when someone who came up through the KGB tells us what is in our national interests, and what is not. It really raises the question of how serious the Russian proposal is.”

But plenty of people seemed to think Putin had scored some points against President Barack Obama.

“I think it’s sad to see him acting with more common sense and humanity than Obama,” said Ashton Blazer.

“Putin made a compelling, though disingenuous, case against military strikes. Its effectiveness shows how badly Pres Obama was outmaneuvered,” tweeted Marc Lamont Hill.

Power plays

Others saw it in less subtle terms.

“#Putin diplomatically serves it to Pres. Obama in the last paragraph. Can’t believe the #nytimes ran this,” wrote Mary F. Mueller.

The White House shrugged off the fuss around Putin’s jabs at Obama, describing them as “irrelevant.”

The important thing, a senior White House official said Wednesday night, is that Putin is “fully invested in Syria’s (chemical weapons) disarmament.”

For some people, the tensions between the two presidents have become a spectacle in their own right.

“Putin plays his next move on our very own NYTimes. This is almost getting as good as Breaking Bad,” wrote Twitter user @MiketheEye.

Others said the tone of the article brought to mind some of the famous photos of Putin in macho poses.

“Putin wrote his Times op-ed on an Underwood, shirtless, with hunting knife nearby,” joked Chris Regan.

TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

As a Russian proposal to strip Syria of its chemical weapons began to take shape, the White House eased off the gas on Tuesday in its drive for congressional approval to strike the Middle Eastern country.

President Barack Obama asked congressional leaders to delay votes on authorizing military action in Syria while the diplomatic process works itself out, the president announced in a prime-time speech to Americans.

Obama said he will continue talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and will send Secretary of State John Kerry to meet with his Russian counterpart, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in Geneva, Switzerland, on Thursday.

The United States will also give U.N. inspectors the opportunity to report their findings about the suspected chemical attack that occurred August 21, the president said.

“Meanwhile, I’ve ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on (Syrian President Bashar al-)Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails,” Obama said in his 16-minute address.

Earlier, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced on the Senate floor that he had canceled a briefing for all senators scheduled for Wednesday.

He said the Senate schedule was driven by developments and not by an artificial timeline.

“It’s important that we do this well, not quickly,” he said. “We’ll see what’s going on. You know, the last 24 hours has had some remarkable changes in what people are talking about. Let’s see what else happens.”

Important meeting in Geneva

Kerry will bring a team of experts with him Thursday for the talks with Lavrov, according to senior State Department officials. Another U.S. official told CNN the Department of Defense will be sending experts in chemical weapons and weapons of mass destruction.

The discussions are expected to take place in several sessions over two days, but negotiations may not be concluded in Geneva, the officials cautioned.

The officials said a final deal — whenever it is reached — would be taken to the United Nations and presented in a Security Council resolution.

Russia calls off Security Council session

Moscow withdrew its request for an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting on the Syrian crisis that had been set for Tuesday, a U.N. diplomat said.

Russia — which has been a key player in efforts to have Syria give up its chemical weapons — dropped its request due to “changing circumstances,” according to the diplomat.

Syria is willing to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said before departing Moscow.

“We are ready to fully cooperate in realizing the initiative,” he told reporters, according to a CNN translation.

Earlier Tuesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it deemed as “unacceptable” a French proposal — also backed by some U.S. lawmakers — asking the Security Council to declare Syria responsible for the August 21 chemical attack that U.S. officials say killed more than 1,400 people.

According to Syrian state TV, Syria on Tuesday accepted Russia’s proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control a day after Kerry floated the idea in what appeared to be an off-the-cuff comment suggesting it would be the only way for Syria to avoid a punishing Western military strike.

Moallem said the country was ready to disclose the location of its chemical weapons, halt production and show facilities to representatives of Russia, the United Nations and other states.

Syria is a longtime Russian ally, and Russian officials have argued, as have Syrian officials, that rebel forces could have staged the attack.

Growing support

Moallem said Tuesday that his country had agreed to the Russian proposal after what the Russian new agency Interfax quoted him as calling “a very fruitful round of talks” with his Russian counterpart, Lavrov, on Monday.

Despite the lack of details, the idea was gaining traction around the world.

On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed support for the concept. Tuesday, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said it would safeguard stability in the region. Syrian ally Iran welcomed the proposal, and Germany expressed interest.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France will not accept delays in the transfer.

“We need quick results,” Fabius said.

European Union Foreign Affairs Secretary Catherine Ashton said she supported the French plan to bring the issue to the Security Council, saying the proposal “now needs to be fully worked up as quickly as possible.”

Even Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, a proponent of a military strike on Syria and robust aid to the rebels, said the idea Capturewas worth exploring.

“I’m very, very skeptical,” he said on CNN’s “New Day.” “But the fact is, you can’t pass up this opportunity — if it is one.”

Inauspicious beginning

The Russian proposal surfaced publicly on Monday, when Kerry — responding to a reporter asking what Syria could do to stop a U.S. attack — suggested that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.”

“He isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously,” Kerry added.

His spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, sought to roll back the comments, saying the secretary was simply responding to a “hypothetical.”

But it turns out Putin brought the idea up to Obama last week, a senior administration official said Monday night.

Kerry and Lavrov have also been discussing ways for Moscow to get involved for more than a year, the official said. But U.S. officials didn’t realize how serious Russia was until Lavrov seized on Kerry’s comment on Monday, the official said.

Facing weak support for U.S. military action, President Barack Obama said that a plan suggested by Russia to have Syria hand over its chemical arsenal to international control could avert American strikes “if it’s real.”

Syria’s prime minister said Damascus supports the Russian initiative. Will Moscow’s proposal delay an Obama strike? And how can Obama sway Americans to support military action? Obama’s remarks in his televised address to the nation at 9 p.m. Tuesday will be crucial.

Latest developments: 

• The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Syria at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, the U.N. spokesman’s office said.

• Russia will propose a U.N. draft declaration backing an initiative to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has told France that its own draft resolution holding the Syrian government responsible for the use of chemical weapons is “unacceptable.”

• Russian President Vladimir Putin said the United States and its allies should “pledge to renounce the use of force” as world powers work to deal with the Syrian chemical weapons issue. “It is difficult to make any country — Syria or any other country in the world — to unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration,” he told Russian TV on Tuesday.

Previous developments:

Diplomacy

• French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Obama agreed Tuesday to work together to explore the Russian proposal seriously, a White House official said. The talks will begin in earnest at the United Nations later Tuesday and will include a discussion on a potential U.N. Security Council resolution.

• The opposition Syrian Coalition said Tuesday that the Russian proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control “is a political strategy that aims to stall for more time” and “does not address the issue of accountability for crimes against innocents.”

• Syrian Prime Minister Wael Nader Al-Halqi said Damascus supports the Russian initiative, Syria state TV reported. The plan “aims to stop the Syrian bloodshed and prevent a war,” Al-Halqi said. “Yesterday we held a very fruitful round of talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and from his side, there was a proposal for an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And by evening (Monday) we agreed to the Russian initiative,” Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said. He said Syria had agreed because it would “remove grounds for American aggression.”

• Russia said it’s working on a plan for Syria to hand over chemical weapons. “We, the Russian side are currently engaged in the preparation of a workable, clear, specific plan for which — literally this minute — we are in contact with the Syrian side,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. “We expect to present this plan in the near future and are prepared to refine and work it out with the participation of the U.N. secretary-general, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and with the participation of the members of the Security Council.”

• China welcomes and supports Russia’s proposal to have Syria hand over chemical weapons to international control, the Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

• Iran said it welcomes the Russian initiative for Syria “to put a halt to militarism in the region,” according to a banner on state-run Press TV’s website.

• France is planning to offer a five-point U.N. Security Council resolution, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. The points include condemning the August 21 massacre, having Syria shed light on its weapons of mass destruction and placing them under international control, having international inspections, forcing Syria to face severe consequences if it violates its obligations, and submitting the perpetrators of the August 21 massacre to international justice.

• France will go to the Security Council on Tuesday with its proposal for Syria to hand over and destroy its chemical weapons, Fabius said. He said France will not accept “delaying tactics.”

• There are consultations with France and others about how to move quickly at the United Nations to test whether Russia and Syria are serious about the initiative to place chemical weapons under international control, a senior U.S. administration official said.

• Obama and Putin, despite their chilly relationship, have been talking for roughly a year about the issue of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, a senior U.S. administration official said Tuesday.

• Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have been appointed by their respective presidents as the point people on the Syrian chemical weapons issue, a senior U.S. administration official said Tuesday. The two diplomats have talked nine times since the August 21 attack in the Damascus area.

U.S. Congress and government

• The Syrian regime has “about 1,000 metric tons of numerous chemical agents, binary components, including finished sulfur, mustard, binary components for sarin and VX,” Secretary of State John Kerry told a House committee Tuesday. “Most of that is in the form of unmixed binary components, probably stored mostly in tanks. But they also possess sarin-filled munitions and other things I can’t go into here.”

• A White House official tells CNN that since August 23, the Obama administration has had discussions with at least 93 Senators and more than 350 House members, regarding Syria. In addition to the president’s efforts and his much-anticipated speech on Syria scheduled for Tuesday night, Vice President Joe Biden is separately meeting with a group of House Republicans and House Democrats at the White House, the official says.

• Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says the Russian plan has “given the President a victory” and said White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough has told House Democrats, “if it is serious, if it is credible, if it is real, will be given every consideration.” Democratic leaders say the plan doesn’t take the wind out of the Administration’s efforts but “validates what the president is doing,” Pelosi said.

• A White House official says the feeling inside the White House is that, given the Russian proposal on Syria’s chemical weapons, there is now less urgency for a vote on taking action against the country. However, White House officials believe their position has been strengthened since Syria embraced the Russian proposal to place the country’s chemical weapons under international control. At this point, White House officials believe they can let diplomacy take its course, the official said.

• Kerry said Tuesday that the use of force “absolutely should not be off the table” in Congress despite the Russian proposal. But he told House lawmakers when and how is up to Obama. “The Senate has made a decision to hold off to see if there are any legs in this Russia proposal,” Kerry said, referring to the postponement of a procedural vote scheduled for Wednesday.

• A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is working on an alternative resolution that would set key benchmarks to be met in order to avoid a military strike against Syria, according to a source familiar with the talks.

• Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Kerry told lawmakers that a “credible threat of force” in recent weeks has for the “first time” prompted the Syrian regime “to even acknowledge that they have a chemical weapons arsenal.” He added that a Russian proposal to turn over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile can’t be a process for “delay” or “avoidance.”

• Kerry also warned the committee that Iran, a close ally of Syria, “looms out there with its nuclear program.” “They are watching what we do here. If we choose not to act, we will be sending a message to Iran of American ambivalence, American weakness,” he said.

• The top-ranking Republican in the Senate said Tuesday that he will vote against authorizing military action against Syria. “A vital national security risk is clearly not at play. There are just too many unanswered questions about our long-term strategy in Syria,” Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a speech on the floor of the Senate.

• On CNN’s “New Day,” Sen. John McCain upbraided the Obama administration’s discussions of Syria. “There’s a degree of incoherence that I have never seen the likes of,” the Arizona Republican said. He noted that Secretary of State John Kerry said any strike on Syria would be “unbelievably small.” “What does that mean?” McCain asked. “We still haven’t determined what the goal of these military strikes are.”

• Obama will go to the Hill to make his case to Senate Democrats, a Senate leadership aide told CNN. Making sure to hit both sides of the aisle, the president also will attend the Senate GOP lunch, a Senate Republican aide said.

• Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will talk about Syria at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia ahead of the president’s national address.

American public opinion

• A new national poll suggests that as Obama prepares to tell a skeptical American public why the United States should take military action against Syria, he’s partly to blame for the box into which he’s put himself.

• The CNN/ORC International poll indicates that Americans are divided evenly on whether Obama is a strong leader as well as whether he’s honest and trustworthy.

• The poll also found that one in five said they completely understand Obama’s Syria policy. A little more than half said they “somewhat” understand the administration’s game plan, and about three in 10 said they are not clear about the administration’s strategy or don’t understand it at all.

 

 

 

TM & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Senior Lecturer at Northwestern University, Jason Desanto, joins WGN Morning News

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