News / Middle East

US, Russia in Tough Talks Over Syria's Chemical Weapons

US, Russia in Tough Talks Over Syria Chemical Weaponsi
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September 13, 2013 12:54 AM
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are in Switzerland for talks on Syria giving up its chemical weapons. A poison gas attack outside Damascus last month brought the threat of U.S. military action against President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington blames for those deaths. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from Geneva.

Related video by Scott Stearns

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry opened talks in Geneva Thursday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as international negotiations intensify to get Syria to dismantle its chemical weapons arsenal.
 
Kerry said before the first day of talks that he hopes diplomacy can avoid the need for a U.S. military strike on Syria for using chemical weapons against civilians last month.
 
Kerry said while the United States and Russia disagree over who was behind the poison gas attack, there is no question that civilians died and chemical weapons are a threat in the Syrian civil war.
 
Lavrov said he believes the United States wants to reach a consensus with Russia.
 
Officials traveling with Kerry said he will push the U.S. demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad quickly account for all of his chemical stockpiles. U.S. officials said the meetings could last several days.
 
Assad said in an interview aired on Russian TV Thursday that he will allow the handover of Syria's chemical weapons to international control.
 
But Kerry rejected Assad's assertion that he can wait one month between signing the global ban on chemical weapon and turning over details about his weapons to the United Nations.  Assad calls the one-month waiting period "standard." Kerry says there is nothing "standard" about the current situation.
 
U.S. officials have said the Russian proposal for securing and destroying the Syrian weapons is possible but "difficult and complicated."
 
Weapons to rebels
 
In other developments, Obama administration officials told several U.S. news organizations that the Central Intelligence Agency has begun delivering light weapons to moderate Syrian rebels for the first time in Syria's two-and-a-half year conflict.
 
But Free Syrian Army rebel chief Salim Idris appeared to dispute that claim, telling U.S. broadcaster NPR that his fighters have not received "any weapons from our American friends."
 
Russian President Vladimir Putin used an opinion piece in The New York Times newspaper to warn the United States against conducting military strikes against the Assad government, a longtime Russian ally.
 
Putin stressed the need to work through the United Nations and not to conduct unilateral military action in Syria. He said a U.S. military strike "would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism," and could negatively affect efforts to address Iran's nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. 
 
Putin also said there is "every reason" to believe opposition fighters were the ones responsible for using chemical weapons in Syria in a bid to draw an outside military response.
 
U.S. President Barack Obama, and other Western leaders, however, blame Syrian forces for the deadly chemical attack last month near Damascus. The U.S. says 1,400 people were killed when Syrian forces used poison gas against civilians.
 
Obama says it was the U.S. military threat that forced the Assad government to negotiate through Russia.  Obama this week cautiously endorsed Russia's diplomatic initiative, but said the U.S. military will be ready to respond if diplomacy fails.
 
U.S. skeptical
 
The U.S. has been openly skeptical about the intentions of Syrian President Assad and his ally Russia.
 
"Well, we certainly have a long and winding history with the Russians, so again, we are not going into this…  We are going into this eyes wide open and the Secretary [of State John Kerry], when he spoke with the foreign minister [of Russia, Sergei Lavrov] just two days ago, made clear we are not going to play games here," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
 
Envoys from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - are discussing a possible draft resolution on securing and dismantling Syria's chemical weapons.
 
Russia has already said it will block any attempt to include the potential use of military force against Syria to ensure it complies with any order.
 
U.N. officials hopeful
 
U.N. officials say they remain hopeful about diplomacy.
 
"[S]ecretary-general [Ban Ki-moon] strongly welcomes the emergence of serious international discussions that could lead to an agreement in the Security Council to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons so as to prevent their use," said U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq.
 
Still, Free Syrian Army chief Salim Idris rejected Russia's proposal in a video posted online, saying the international community should not only remove the weapons, but also punish those responsible for using them.
 
Obama says U.S. ships in the Mediterranean region are staying in place to keep pressure on the Syrian government to live up to any agreement on giving up its chemical weapons.
 
The Syrian stockpile is one of the world's largest, and is scattered at sites across the country.
 
Middle East and national security expert Ari Ratner said every chance for a negotiated solution must be taken.
 
"What exactly that negotiated solution looks like remains to be discussed, both within Syria, of course, and also in a broader international community," he said. "But if these past two weeks of build-up to war, which have been quite chaotic in many respects, achieve something, a push towards diplomacy, even if it ultimately fails, it ought to be tried one last time."
 
He added that those opposing force in Syria would be more willing to reconsider military action if they saw that diplomatic efforts were made to resolve the crisis.

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by: Stefan
September 13, 2013 9:20 AM
Russia has successfully postponed any military strike contrary to gross human rights violations by the Syrian army on civillians and Russia took no action then. Contrast their sudden action when the threat of a military strike loomed, they just couldnt do enough to launch into an campaign against such action. Sadly the British parliament did not support David Cameron either and it is doubtful whether the US Congress will ever vote on such action and unlikely they will support President Obama. Whilst the situation drags on, the UN and the ICC at the Hague are still "silent" on war crimes action against the Syrian government and others guilty of such violations.


by: Leroy Padmore from: Jersey City, NJ
September 13, 2013 4:27 AM
Syria chemical weapons need to be put under control and destroy. Assad has crossed the red line and he must be brought to justice. there is no exception. What we are telling Assad and the world, it is ok to use chemical weapons and nobody punish you. And we are also saying it is ok to turn your back on the general public, regardless what is happen to them. And let their Government slaughter them. The true of the matter is the US military is the world supper power, there is no military on the earth now that can with stand the fire power of the US..

Mr. Putin knows that the American leadership, France, and Britain are very weak, so he uses that as a weapon to prey on them. During the Bush administration we never saw that nonsense. America is the world supper power and we need to demand that respect.


by: Joe Polonium
September 12, 2013 11:12 PM
Russia certainly has alot to account for given the deaths of two persons in the UK in recent years under "mysterious" circumstances and it illustrates what happens to those who offend the Government. The question to be asked is where and how did the Syrians acquire the chemical weapons, was Russia the supplier??? and if so when last did they deliver and were any of they experts involved in the manufacturing setup of chemical weapons.


by: Gennady from: Russia, Volga Region
September 12, 2013 8:41 PM
There is no any doubt that the US military threat forced Assad to negotiate. Just look at the timetable of the Syrian war. All the war long Russia as being ruled by Mr. Putin and Co has patiently been watching thousands civilians die unnecessarily until President Obama awoke them from their doldrums. I personally also skeptical about the intentions of Assad and Russia under the KGB/FSB rule. There is a canon in Russia that “a former KGB man is always a KGB man”. I see a Trojan horse in the “Russian initiative” from the KGB regime. It made me laugh to read how Mr. Putin’s article in The New York Times newspaper taught the world to follow the law. When and where did the KGB observe laws in all its long history? All its activity was, is and will be to circumvent and overcome any law. Just in textbooks one can meet laws in lawless contemporary Russia. What kind of law is observed in Russia where its President has got his unprecedented third term in office (against the Constitution) after rigged and disputed election, where the Parliament of Russia is also elected in widely rigged election, where dozens of articles of the Constitution are indefinitely suspended and basic human rights aren’t observed? What kind of law is observed in Russia with courts of law passing 99% guilty verdicts and tools to silence anybody speaking their mind? What kind of law is observed in Russia with multibillion $ corruption out of control? What kind of law is observed in Russia with dozens upon dozens unsolved murders of outspoken journalists? What kind of international law is observed in Russia’s Chechnya?

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