News / Middle East

Russia Hands US Its Plan for Syrian Diplomacy

Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons as they take positions near Hanano Barracks, which is controlled by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Aleppo, Sept. 11, 2013.
Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons as they take positions near Hanano Barracks, which is controlled by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, in Aleppo, Sept. 11, 2013.
VOA News
Russian news agencies report that Moscow has given the United States its plan for securing Syria's chemical weapons ahead of a meeting Thursday in Geneva between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart.

Details were not available. Kerry has said that reaching any agreement on a chemical weapons plan would be "exceedingly difficult."

A French official said Wednesday that negotiations have begun on a proposed U.N. resolution that aims to ensure that the Russian plan is implemented quickly. Russia has already disputed key elements of such a resolution, including language allowing the use of force against Syria.

Obama encouraged

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a speech Tuesday, referred to the Russian proposal and Syria's reported agreement as "encouraging signs," but also stressed that the U.S. military would be ready to respond if diplomacy fails.

Obama has warned he could launch a "limited" military strike on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to punish it for allegedly carrying out a chemical attack in Damascus last month. Assad blames the attack on rebels.

Under a potential U.S.-Russian deal, Assad's government would surrender its chemical weapons to the United Nations to have them destroyed, and the United States would freeze its plans for military action.

Obama said he asked Congress to postpone a vote authorizing military action against Syria to let the diplomatic initiatives play out.

Iran and China, which have opposed outside military intervention in Syria, expressed optimism about the diplomatic path on Wednesday.

But, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, an Assad ally, also cast doubt about Western intentions.

"The latest developments, if they can be taken seriously, show that they [United States and its allies] have stepped back from the inconsiderate and mistaken actions that they had taken in the past few weeks. We hope this [turnabout] is indeed serious," said Ayatollah Khamenei    .

Turkish President Abdullah Gul, whose government strongly opposes Assad, said the diplomatic efforts should focus on more than just "cleaning up" Syria's chemical weapons.

"This is not only a problem of chemical weapons. The United States should not consider this only as a matter of chemical weapons. There is a civil war in this country where more than 100,000 people have been brutally killed," said Gul.

Russian achievement

Russian analyst Fyodor Lyukanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs magazine, said Moscow sees Obama's decision to delay military strikes against Syria as a diplomatic victory.

"For the United States, it might be a good solution because Obama and Congress can say, 'That's because of us. We pressed, made big pressure on Assad. We threatened him with war and then he gave up.' For Russia, this is a very good opportunity to show that the Russian position did make sense," said Lyukanov.

But, Paul Schulte, a London-based chemical weapons analyst with the Carnegie Endowment, said he doubts that the Russian approach will suffice.

"The Russian plan, which might be a wild card or might be a game-changer, is still very unclear, and there is a lot of skepticism about whether it could ever work," he said.

Alexander Golts, a military analyst and editor of an online journal, said the Russian president has had bad experiences with the leaders of North Korea and Iran.
 
"The basic question about [the] Russian initiative is, can you trust [the] words of Syrian officials, or not? Unfortunately, Russian leader Vladimir Putin had a rather bad story with two leaders of specific countries - [the late North Korean leader] Kim Jong Il and [former Iranian president] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Putin met each of them, received the promises he wanted, and the next day both of these men said they were misunderstood and joking," said Golts.
 
Challenging process

Any disposal of Syria's chemical weapons also would face practical obstacles, said international security expert Joanna Kidd of London's King's College.

Syria is believed to have 1,000 tons of highly toxic agents, spread over 60 locations, in the midst a civil war that has claimed 100,000 lives and displaced one-third of the population.

"It is a job that would take several months to do. And of course, one should not forget that obviously there is a civil war that would greatly complicate the process," Kidd said.
 
Military analyst Golts said the best strategy might be for international peacekeepers to deploy and use mobile incinerators.
 
"When Russia previously faced the problem of dismantling its own chemical weapons, it preferred not to move these agents all over the country, but to build plants and special facilities for destroying these weapons directly in places where these weapons were stored," said Golts.

Exposing massacres

In another development, a U.N. commission of inquiry said it has evidence that the Assad government and one rebel group have committed at least eight massacres over the past year and a half. The commission released its latest report on the human rights situation in Syria on Wednesday.

The U.N. investigators accused both the Syrian government and opposition forces, including Islamist foreign fighters, of war crimes. They said the Syrian government, however, has committed the vast majority of killings and other abuses.

Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director for the New York-based group Human Rights Watch,said he finds the U.N. report disturbing.

"It shows that the violations being committed in Syria continue at the same intensity, if not greater intensity as before," said Bouckaert.

"The levels of massacres, summary executions, indiscriminate bombings of towns [is a concern], as well as a significant increase of abuses being committed by opposition forces, particularly some of the more extreme elements, such as the jihadi groups of [al-Qaida's] Islamic State of Iraq [and the Levant]."

Reporting by James Brooke in Moscow, Al Pessin in London, Lisa Schlein in Geneva, and Jeff Seldin and Michael Lipin in Washington.

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by: observer from: sweden
September 14, 2013 10:30 PM
It seems the vast majority of people look upon this current development with great hope. Most people realise there are negotiations and considerations "behind the scene" which are not reflected in mass media.

We read about Kerry being active in initiating new talks between Palestines and Israelis, as well as putting pressure on opposition groups in Syria to join a conference in Geneva.
This new turn with intense diplomacy between US, EU and Russia, I think we can thank in part the Obama administration for.

Maybe we will suddenly hear a statement from Israel saying they will or have already destroyed their chemical weapons and/or saying they will ratify the chemical weapons convention.

Suddenly there might be negotiations between the Assad regime and the opposition groups (those of them who are Syrians). We simply do not know. But for sure, this a diametrically different approach than the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz approach to the dictatorial minority rule in Iraq.

Even Iran - with their less provocative new president - might come to the table later, and in the long term a surprise statement that Israel will dismantle their nuclear arsenal.

To some extent the The Bush administration with its neoconservative and religious facade, were more similar to the Iranian regime than any other western ditto.


by: Lawrence Dean from: Seattle
September 14, 2013 8:15 PM




I deplore the humanitarian disaster happening in Syria.

But we need to remember – our enemies are fighting our enemies.

It’s Assad/Iran/Hezbollah on one side and the Syrian rebels/al Qaeda/Muslim Brotherhood on the other. Why would we want to get dragged into this?

And don't forget that Obama's dad was a muslim cleric and that Obama has a close relationship with CAIR which is an extension of the muslim brotherhood. And it has been proven that CAIR and the muslim students association have a secret agenda to destroy America from within.



by: robert from: us
September 14, 2013 12:39 PM
Obama is not qualified to do anything. Just look at everything from economy, jobs, world fiends (2, on a good day) citizens ready to riot,more gun purchases than every before. He is ruining the entire US. He has not a clue to what his powers are or aren't.

Lucky for us that President Putin stepped in with the answer. Obama was ready (the chems were used in April) 4 months later to bomb Syria, opening up attacks on the US, Israel perhaps WWIII.

He does very well attending Talk Shows, BBQ's and inviting entertainers to the White House. He has earned the deflated title of Mr Obama, not President.

IMPEACH OBAMA


by: Godwin from: Nigeria
September 12, 2013 12:51 PM
Russia brokers a deal to make Syria handover its stockpile of Chemical weapons to the UN? James Hardley Chase would answer like this, “Believe this, and you will believe anything”. I like the way some US media houses put it. They put it in form of question to the public: “Is Obama uncomfortable?” “Russia to be trusted?” “Is the president’s credibility hurt?” etc. One senator, one of those on the side of truth and the reality on the ground put it bluntly, “Obama is uncomfortable as the commander in chief of the USA.” You cannot say it any other better way.

Perhaps the president never envisaged what the office entailed. Now it stares him in the face. Now he wishes he was still a senator making insignificant and/or inconsequential contribution from the floor of the house. Some school of thought says the Russia angle was a deal to rescue the president from the tight corner he boxed himself into making untenable demand on Syria – a demand he did not intend to exert. No wonder he accepted anything for a deal, including Russia’s unsubstantiated advocacy to mediate in the Syrian crisis.

One person that is not liking the proceedings with the president’s discredited position is John Kerry who had gone into the matter with wholehearted and reinforced desired to put paid to the chemical weapons threat once and for all. Realizing the president’s weak position, Kerry finds himself in a situation all but unable to tell the president to his face to go to hell with the diversionary meeting with Lavrov which has nothing to achieve but frivolity, triviality and waste of taxpayers’ money. For from every indication, the president is made up on the line that no matter what happens, Syria is Russia’s ally and zone and so there is nothing US can do but just threaten.

Kerry should have known it from the beginning. Wars of this nature are not advertized the way Mr. Obama handled this one. He should be held accountable for the dispersal, decentralization and hiding of the chemical weapons by Assad. Imagine 1000 locations! This is more so where there is a possibility that Assad must have deployed some of these weapons to the terrorists flocking Syria at the moment. Iraq’s chemical weapons cannot be located till date because of information devolution and sabotaging.


by: Rob Robertson
September 11, 2013 10:16 PM
Diplomacy works and is a much better tool then bombs. Only if the U.S.A had this diplomacy tool, before the big mess in Iraq.


by: Dr. Malek Towghi from: Michigan, USA
September 11, 2013 6:05 PM
It is time for President Obama to amend his declared goal of intended US & Allies' operations against the Basahar Assad regime. The goal of any US operation should be the creation of a chemical-weapon-free Syria. It should be clearly stated that this goal is not reachable as long as the Bashar Assad & Co. regime exists in Syria. So the goal of any international action should be the overthrow of the fascist Ba'thist regime in Syria.


by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
September 11, 2013 5:24 PM
President Obama cannot be trusted and cannot be relied by the people in the US, the rebels in Syria and the rest of the world. Obama first said that Assad should go two years ago but he never helped the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Nothing happened. He then announced that US will supply non lethal weapons to FSA, but nothing happened. Then he announced that lethal weapons will be given to selected FSA groups who are not terrorists. Nothing happened. He drew the so called red line if Assad uses chemical weapons. Assad used chemical weapons and Obama did not act. Obama even told that it is not he who drew a red line but the world did it. Obama announced that Assad will be punished for the use of chemical weapons. But Obama still did not act against Assad. He prepared to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons but back tracked for approval of the Congress and Senate at the same time claiming that he has the right to intervene in Syria without the approval of Congress and Senate. Then when Obama was sure that the approval of the Congress and Senate are not probable, he requested to delay the resolution for military action against Assad. Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned that Assad should surrender all chemical weapons to international control. The State Department announced it is off the cuff remark by Kerry and should be taken seriously. When Russia joined the band wagon, Obama put a hold on any military action against Assad. Now the military action against Assad is in the hands of equally unreliable Putin. Even if Assad surrenders all chemical weapons, where is the punishment for the use of chemical weapons? Just like a criminal shoot to kill a person and then surrender the pistol, that does not absolve the crime committed and the criminal will be punished. Is Obama prepared to punish Assad for the use of chemical weapons, even if he surrenders the chemical weapons to the international control? Is Obama willing to take military action against Assad, even if the Congress and Senate do not approve the resolution authorizing military action? This American President should keep his foot in his mouth. This American President lost the credibility of the people in the US and the rest of the world. His oratory is good, his actions are poor.

In Response

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
September 12, 2013 1:10 PM
Davis K. Thanjan from: New York you got it right. Simply put, your president's sit right now is vacant. Mr. Obama went in there to break records - the first black president - think that result still overwhelms him that he can neither think nor act further. Whatever prompted him to draw a red line! He tripped over it. Probably you still think he's still in there. All we get today is a speech-writer's worth. I believe he listens to his little girls what to tell the American public and comes out to reproduce it. It all seems child(-ish or -like)? How about Dizney Jr, Tom and Jerry kit. Samurai Jack, Out of Jimmy's head, Merlin? Made in Hollywood. Americans, enjoy it while it lasts!

In Response

by: Dr. Malek Towghi from: Michigan, USA
September 11, 2013 10:59 PM
Thanks, Davis, for articulating the points so clearly. Shame on Obama.

In Response

by: Anonymous
September 11, 2013 8:46 PM
Mr Thanjan , you are absolutely correct. I am still upset they haven't helped arm the FSA yet as well, which has allowed this war to drag on and on with more deaths. These people of Syria sure must be upset with the broken promises! It is terrible if the government (Obama) says he is going to do something and doesn't follow through with it, especially when it comes to genocide. Assad went over the red line long before chemical weapons were involved, with conventional weapons. Dropping conventional bombs in civilian populated (non combatants) areas was a crime as well... Plus many of those bombs were banned by countries around the globe. It is time the world steps in and arrests assad, If the International Criminal Court has proof of his crimes, there is NO reason that Syria shouldn't be included for justice to be served to Bashar al Assad. Just because Russia or China vetos should not matter, crimes are crimes, PERIOD.

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