News / Middle East

US, Russia Closer to Agreement on Syrian Chemical Weapons

US, Russia Closer to Agreement on Syria Weapons Plani
September 14, 2013 1:53 AM
Talks about Syria's chemical weapons between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are going into a third day Saturday in Geneva, and both sides report they are making progress. If the effort to get Syria to turn over its chemical weapons is successful, the American and Russian diplomats say that could revive efforts to end the Syrian civil war with a political settlement. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns is at the Geneva talks and has the latest details.
US, Russia Closer to Agreement on Syria Weapons Plan
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet Saturday for a third day in Switzerland after "constructive" talks on ending Syria's chemical weapons program.

The two diplomats say an agreement to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control could help revive efforts toward a political transition to end the civil war.

A senior Obama administration official says U.S. and Russian negotiators are coming closer to an agreement on the scope of Syrian chemical weapons stockpiles. That is central to identifying and containing those munitions, since Russian estimates are lower than the roughly 1,000 metric tons of chemical weapons that the United States believes are in Syria.

Kerry said Friday's talks on containing and destroying Syrian chemical weapons included some of the "homework" that he and Foreign Minister Lavrov need to do to get Syria's warring factions to a conference on a transitional government.

"We've both agreed to do that homework and meet again in New York around the time of the U.N. General Assembly, around the 28th [of September], in order to see if it is possible then to find a date for that conference much of which will obviously depend on the capacity to have success here in the next day, hours, days on the subject of the chemical weapons," Kerry said.

Lavrov said progress on Syrian chemical weapons could help open the way for a political transition.

"The Syrian parties must reach mutual consent on the transitional governing organ which would command full executive authority. And the communique also says that all groups of Syrian society must be represented," he said.

Kerry will travel to Israel Sunday for talks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then to Paris for talks Monday with the foreign ministers of France, Britain and Saudi Arabia.

U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday he is hopeful that the negotiations Kerry is having will "bear fruit." Speaking in Washington after meeting with Kuwait's leader, Mr. Obama said any agreement to destroy Syria's chemical weapons must be "verifiable and enforceable."

A new U.S. poll shows that Americans are evenly divided as to weather they think the plan to put chemical weapons under international control will be successful. The Gallup poll shows that 45% of Americans are at least somewhat optimistic about the plan while 44% say they are pessimistic about it.

Talks with UN envoy

Kerry and Lavrov spoke to reporters Friday after meeting with the U.N. special representative for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, who is trying to organize a conference known as Geneva Two.

"It is extremely important in itself and for itself, but it is also extremely important for us working with you on trying to bring together the Geneva Two conference successfully," Brahimi said.

That conference has been delayed repeatedly by confusion within the Syrian opposition and by disagreement over what other nations might attend. Russia believes Iran should take part in those talks. Washington opposes Tehran's participation because its forces are advising and supplying Syrian troops.

It is not clear how the talks on securing Syria's chemical weapons might resolve those outstanding differences over a Geneva Two conference, but Kerry said he is hopeful the initiative "could pay off and bring peace and stability to a war-torn part of the world."

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has formally applied to join an international convention banning the use of chemical weapons but says that can not be "brought to the final stage" while his country is under the threat of a U.S. missile strike.

U.S. President Barack Obama says he retains the right to use force to degrade Syria's ability to use chemical weapons following an August attack outside Damascus that Washington blames on Assad forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin says there is "every reason" to believe that opposition fighters were responsible for that chemical weapon attack in a bid to provoke outside military action.

In an opinion piece in The New York Times, he warned against a U.S. military strike on Syria saying that "would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism."

  • This citizen journalism image provided by Edlib News Network shows anti-Syrian regime protesters hold a poster depicting U.S. President Barack Obama during a demonstration in Kafr Nabil, Idlib province, Sept. 20, 2013.
  • Children sit along a damaged street filled with debris in the besieged area of Homs, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • Debris is seen on the ground after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the al-Myassar neighborhood of Aleppo, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • An injured man walks along a street after what activists said was shelling by forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in the al-Myassar neighborhood of Aleppo, Sept. 19, 2013.
  • This citizen journalism image provided by The Syrian Revolution against Bashar Assad shows a Syrian military tank on fire during clashes with Free Syrian army fighters in Joubar, a suburb of Damascus, Sept. 18, 2013.
  • A member of the Shohadaa Badr Brigade, which operates under the Free Syrian Army, stands in shooting position behind sandbags in Ashrafieh, Aleppo, September 17, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters walk through rubble inside the old city of Aleppo, Sept. 16, 2013.
  • A Free Syrian Army fighter carries his weapon as he stands on rubble of damaged buildings in al-Aseela neighborhood near Aleppo's historic citadel, Sept. 13, 2013.
  • In this citizen journalism image provided by the United media office of Arbeen, a Syrian protester chants slogans during a demonstration in Arbeen, a suburb of Damascus, Sept. 13, 2013.

UN report due

In New York, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said he expects a report from a team investigating the August 21st attack will be an "overwhelming report" that shows chemical weapons were used. U.N. officials told VOA the report is expected on Monday.

It reportedly will focus on analysis of biomedical and environmental samples they collected from the area of the attack. The team also took statements from medical personnel and survivors.

The team's mandate is to say only whether chemical agents were used, not who used them.

A spokesman for Ban, Farhan Haq, said although the report is not complete, the secretary-general has been in touch with the team's experts.

Ban also expressed continued concern over the crisis in Syria, which has killed more than 100,000 people and displaced at least 6 million.

Speaking about calls for Assad to leave power, he said it is for the people of Syria to decide.

“I think that's their choice," Ban said. "What happened is that he has committed many crimes against humanity. Therefore, I'm sure that there will be, surely, the process of accountability when everything is over.”

Executions blamed on Syrian forces

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch announced Friday that Syrian government-linked forces executed at least 248 people, including women and children, following clashes with opposition fighters in two towns earlier this year.

The killings in the coastal towns of al-Bayda and Baniyas were among the "deadliest instances of mass summary executions" during Syria's two and a half year-long civil war, the group said in a report.

The executions followed clashes between government and rebel forces on May 2-3, according to the report. After opposition fighters retreated, the report said Assad fighters entered homes, rounded up men from each neighborhood, and shot them execution style.

Human Rights Watch documented at least 23 women and 14 children, including infants, it says were killed by government forces in al-Bayda. It said in both towns, government or pro-government forces executed, or tried to execute, entire families.

Syria's government has admitted to killing "terrorists," its name for rebels, and possibly committing what it called "mistakes" during the military operation in the two towns. But Human Rights Watch says the "overwhelming majority" were executed after the clashes had ended.

Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch's acting Middle East director, said the executions show that the world "shouldn't forget that Syrian government forces have used conventional means to slaughter civilians."

Human Rights Watch said the U.N. Security Council should "ensure accountability for these crimes by referring the situation to the International Criminal Court."

William Gallo contributed to this report from Washington and Margaret Besheer from the United Nations,

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Comment Sorting
by: Reason from: colorado
September 13, 2013 6:55 PM
Kerry is making the same mistake Obama did, flapping his mouth way to much and not impressing anyone in the process. Kerry and Obama have absolutely NO say in this. Kerry is there for no other reason than a photo opportunity to make it look like he is actually doing something. Same reason for the long drawn out rhetoric by Kerry. Russia will draw up the resolution and Obama and Kerry are going to have to go with it or face a disgruntled American public and congress again. Either option will result in Obama and Kerry losing face and being an embarrassment once again.

by: Sergev INSIDER from: USA
September 13, 2013 4:00 PM
They are not even sure that Assad knew about the attack beforehand.
Intercepted Syrian military communications reveal that after the Aug. 21 attack, the Syrian general staff were in a complete panic thinking that their 155th Brigade launched an unauthorized chemical strike in defiance of prior orders not to do so.
This led to Syrian intelligence interrogating the major in charge of the brigade for three days, who adamantly denied firing any missiles and encouraged the general staff to count his weapons inventory.
All of the brigade’s missiles were accounted for.
Pierre Piccinin da Prata, a Belgium writer who was kidnapped by the al-Nursa Front, said that during his captivity he overheard his rebel captors admit that they carried out the Aug. 21 chemical attack as a false flag in order to lure the United States into the conflict to help Al-Qaeda topple Assad.
“The government of Bashar al-Assad did not use sarin gas or other types of gas in the outskirts of Damascus,” Piccinin said during an interview with a Belgium radio station.
Secluded from the outside world after being kidnapped, he only learned about the attack straight from his captors.
While the Obama administration continues to push our military into entering Syria as “al-Qaeda’s air force,” fighting alongside Islamic extremists recruited and armed by the CIA, the evidence strongly points to the al-Nusra Front, labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S., as responsible for the Aug. 21 chemical attack.

by: Sergev INSIDER from: Usa
September 13, 2013 3:54 PM
A leaked U.S. military document reveals that Al-Qaeda possessed and produced “kitchen-grade” sarin gas for chemical attacks against the Syrian people, further adding to the evidence that the Al-Qaeda Syrian opposition launched the Aug. 21 chemical attack in Damascus as a false flag in order to frame Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

Credit: FreedomHouse via Flickr
In May, Turkish anti-terror police confiscated a two-kilogram cylinder of sarin gas from members of the Jabhat al-Nusra Front based in Southern Turkey near the Syrian border, according to a classified report obtained by WND.
The National Ground Intelligence Center report states that Al-Qaeda in Iraq produced the sarin gas and then shipped it to the al-Nusra Front for use in Syria.
Two months prior to the confiscation, 26 people and Syrian government forces died from exposure to sarin gas delivered in a rocket attack on Aleppo, a city in the northwestern region of Syria near the Turkish border.

by: Godwin from: Nigeria
September 13, 2013 11:15 AM
I am wondering if Kerry has anything in his head as brain at all. With the drawback and mismanagement of the whole situation by his principal Obama, Kerry continues to 'put pressure' on Russia and Syria to do what? It does not depend on what Kerry wants, otherwise the US would be on its way back from Syria, having silenced Assad's lying lips. Perhaps too, the war would be on its way to the last shot. But who is deceiving Kerry to continue to blab about what American can do to Syria if it does not hand in its chemical weapons?

Syria and Assad already know that USA is just bluffing, and Lavrov seems to be telling Kerry to turn to another chapter, yet Kerry doesn't understand. Well, probably someone is dancing like the deaf that continues to dance long after the music has stopped playing. Let somebody tell Kerry, go home, the case is closed. The verdict? The killer only has to hand in the instrument of his mayhem and go home. What a judgment! Assad must be the luckiest killer in our time. Kudos to Russia, Hezbollah and Iran: the fear of the trio is the beginning of wisdom in the US.

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