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Latest: UN to blame Assad for chemical attack, report says

Crisis in Syria: Live updates

News from the region, the US and around the world as Washington weighs intervening in the Syrian civil war

Smoke rises from buildings due to heavy artillery shelling in Barzeh, a district of Damascus, Syria, on Tuesday, September 10, 2013. (AP/Shaam News Network via AP video)
Smoke rises from buildings due to heavy artillery shelling in Barzeh, a district of Damascus, Syria, on Tuesday, September 10, 2013. (AP/Shaam News Network via AP video)

US President Barack Obama has approached Congress for authorization for a limited strike against Syria, after a reported chemical attack near Damascus killed hundreds on August 21. Iran, Syria and Hezbollah have threatened to retaliate against Israel should a strike take place, though officials estimate the country will not come under attack. Russia, one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s strongest backers, has said it will not intervene, and on Monday hosted senior officials from Tehran and Damascus to discuss the situation.

Syrian army attacks hills around Christian village

A Syrian activist group claimed the army was attacking hills overlooking a rebel-held Christian-majority village near the capital Damascus.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighters from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra or Nusra Front and the Qalamon Liberation Front still control Maaloula, an ancient village that is home to two of the oldest surviving monasteries in Syria.

Rami Abdul-Rahman, who heads the Observatory, said troops attacked the hills around Maaloula early Monday under the cover of heavy shelling.

Rebels captured the village on Saturday. The battle has thrown a spotlight on the deep-seated fears that many of Syria’s religious minorities harbor about the growing role of Islamic extremists on the rebel side in Syria’s civil war.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press

UK PM Cameron leaves his papers in public on train

Downing Street officials say Britain’s secrets weren’t at risk despite a photograph showing Prime Minister David Cameron’s official red box of papers left in public view on a train table.

A front-page photograph Monday in the Daily Mirror showed the famous, battered red box marked “Prime Minister” apparently unattended while Cameron left his seat on a weekend train to Scotland.

The newspaper said other passengers could have rifled through the box and studied secret plans for military options in Syria or details about disagreements with Russia over policy toward Syria.

A Downing Street statement, however, indicated that Cameron’s security team was in place and the box was not unattended.

In the past, British government-owned laptops containing sensitive information have been left on public transport, prompting tighter rules on security.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press

Italian reporter abducted in Syria freed

An Italian war reporter and a Belgian writer who were kidnapped in Syria in April were freed on Sunday, the Italian government said.

A few hours after the announcement, Domenico Quirico, a correspondent for the Turin daily La Stampa, stepped off a plane at a Rome airport and was embraced by Italy’s foreign minister. The Belgian man, Pierre Piccinin, was also free and was flown to Italy along with Quirico, Premier Enrico Letta’s office said in a statement.

Letta’s office said “hope had never faded” for Quirico’s safe return but gave no details on how he became free, nor said who had held him.

Quirico, looking weary, told reporters on the tarmac of Rome’s Ciampino airport early Monday that he felt as if he had “been living on Mars” for the past five months, and that his isolation from the news was such that he didn’t even know who had been elected Italian president this spring.

“I was treated badly,” Quirico said, when a reporter asked how his abductors had treated him. La Stampa described him as exhausted but in good health.

A veteran war correspondent used to reporting from the front lines, Quirico had entered Syria from Lebanon on April 6 and disappeared three days later while traveling to the city of Homs in war-torn Syria. La Stampa said Piccinin had been kidnapped along with Quirico.

“I had tried to tell the story of the Syrian revolution but … the revolution turned into something else,” Quirico said.

Sky TG24 TV said Italian prosecutors in Rome would talk to Quirico on Monday about his kidnapping before he heads to his home in northern Italy.

Letta called Belgium’s prime minister with the good news about Piccinin, the Italian news agency ANSA said.

Still missing in Syria is an Italian Jesuit priest, Paolo Dall’Oglio, a well-known figure who Syria who activists said had gone to meet with al-Qaeda-linked militants. The priest went missing in July.

Dall’Oglio is a critic of the regime of President Bashar Assad, which the rebels are fighting to overthrow. The government a year ago expelled him from Syria, where he had lived for 30 years.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press

UN rights chief condemns use of chemical weapons

The UN human rights chief said Monday there is little doubt that chemical weapons were used in Syria but she did not specify which of the combatants was suspected of using them.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay spoke two days ahead of the expected update from a UN panel probing for war crimes and other human rights abuses in Syria, including the use of chemical weapons. The 47-nation UN Human Rights Council, which authorized the probe, is likely to consider a resolution on Syria before the end of its session.

“The use of chemical weapons has long been identified as one of the gravest crimes that can be committed, yet their use in Syria seems now to be in little doubt, even if all the circumstances and responsibilities remain to be clarified,” Pillay told the Geneva-based council.

Pillay noted that when she first urged action to end the Syrian crisis two years ago, some 2,600 Syrians had died in the conflict. Now the number of dead is over 100,000.

“The international community is late, very late to take serious joint action to halt the downward spiral that has gripped Syria, slaughtering its people and destroying its cities,” she said. “This appalling situation cries out for international action, yet a military response or the continued supply of arms risk igniting a regional conflagration, possibly resulting in many more deaths and even more widespread misery.”

Iran’s ambassador, Mohsen Naziri Asl, did not directly address the issue of chemical weapons but said his nation agrees with Pillay on the dangers of sparking a deeper regional crisis.

“Military action risks igniting a regional war,” he told the council. “The only way out of this situation is the immediate negotiation end the conflict.”

Representatives of Italy and Qatar said they were convinced that Assad’s government has used chemical weapons against its people, and said the international community must respond.

“The continuing crimes of the Syrian regime and its militias cannot be ignored,” Qatar’s ambassador, Alya Ahmed Saif Al-Thani, said. “It is moral duty of the international community to protect citizens against the repression of the regime.”

Allowing the regime to go unpunished, she added, “would give them an international license of kill.”

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press

Most Americans oppose Syria strike

Even though most Americans believe that the Assad government used chemical weapons on its own populace, a majority remain opposed to a US strike on Syrian military facilities in response, a CNN/ORC poll reveals.

According to the results, 80 percent of Americans think Syria used nerve gas, but 70% say a US strike would not achieve “significant goals” for the US and around the same number say “it’s not in the national interest” for the US to get directly involved in the Syrian civil war.

UN chief urges Syria to transfer chemical weapons

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria to immediately agree to transfer chemical weapons and chemical precursors to a safe place within the country for international destruction.

Ban said Monday he will also propose to the Security Council that it unite and demand an immediate chemical weapons transfer should UN inspectors conclude that such weapons were used in an attack Aug. 21 in a suburb of Damascus.

He said he is also considering asking the council to demand accountability for an alleged chemical weapons attack.

Ban spoke shortly after Moscow’s surprise announcement that it was pressing its ally Syria on a similar proposal — to move its chemical weapons to areas under international control to avoid a US military strike.

AP

US says 14 more nations join statement on Syria

The White House said 14 more nations have signed on to a statement blaming Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government for a chemical weapons attack and calling for a strong international response.

That meant the list has grown to 25 from the 11 — including the US — who initially signed on. The statement was unveiled Friday at the Group of 20 economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Among the new nations that announced support are Germany, Denmark, Morocco, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Estonia, Croatia, Hungary, Kosovo, Honduras, Romania, Latvia, Albania and Lithuania are also listed.

The statement didn’t explicitly call for military action against Syria, as President Barack Obama is advocating. But administration officials say it’s an implicit endorsement because the US is publicly discussing a potential military strike.

AP

Obama adviser: Strikes at Syria not ‘another war’

White House national security adviser Susan Rice says any US military action against Syria “would not be another war.”

She says the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own people and said that raises threats to other countries in the region, including Israel, the region’s top US ally.

Rice’s remarks Monday to the New America Foundation think tank are part of a White House effort to build support with the public and in Congress to authorize Obama to use military action against the Syrian government.

The effort faces widespread skepticism. Obama is scheduled to deliver an address to the nation on Tuesday.

Rice says the Obama administration and allies have exhausted other measures to stop Syria’s use of weapons.

AP

US weighs talk of Syria dumping chemical weapons

US officials say they will take a “hard look” at a proposal for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to international control to avoid a military strike.

State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Monday the US would consider the proposal floated by the foreign ministers of Russia and Syria with “serious skepticism” because it might be a stalling tactic. She said Syria had consistently refused to destroy its chemical weapons in the past.

The proposal came after Secretary of State John Kerry said in London on Monday that Syrian President Bashar Assad could end the crisis by turning over all his chemical weapons. Harf said Kerry wasn’t putting forth a formal proposal.

AP

Dimona could be hit in response to US strike in Syria, Iran warns

An Iranian official on Monday warned that a Western attack on Syria could precipitate a response that would disastrously extend to Israel’s nuclear facility in Dimona

“Missile strikes are likely to be inaccurate and could hit the Zionist entity’s chemical factory or its Dimona reactor, causing an unprecendented humanitarian disaster,” said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Iranian Parliament.

On the Israeli side, Avigdor Liberman, former foreign minister and currently the head of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told the Russian-language Channel 9 that if Israel is drawn into the conflict, Assad and his colleagues would be “wiped out.”

France: Russia’s proposal worthy of ‘close scrutiny’

France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Monday said that Russia’s proposal that Syria surrender its chemical weapons to international control was worthy of “close scrutiny,” but that any deal would have to include three basic components: that Assad quickly place his arsenal of chemical weapons under international control and allow the weapons to be destroyed; that the UN Security Council endorse the deal; and that the agreement would not be seen as absolving Assad for the August chemical weapons attack, which the US says killed over 1,400.

Obama says proposal could be potential breakthrough

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama says a proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control to avoid US military strikes could be a potential breakthrough.

Obama told NBC News in an interview Monday that he remains skeptical that Syria will follow through and turn over its stockpile, so he’s taking a statement from Damascus, quote, “with a grain of salt initially.” But he says he would prefer to have a diplomatic solution to the crisis rather than launch a military attack, and called it “a potentially positive development.”

Secretary of State John Kerry suggested earlier Monday that Syria could avoid a potential US air attack by putting its chemical weapons under international control. Syria’s ally Russia quickly took the idea to Syria’s foreign minister, who said Damascus welcomes the proposal.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

Obama, Putin spoke about Syria giving up its chemical weapons

WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Barack Obama says he spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin about a potential plan for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to international control.

Obama tells PBS’ “NewsHour” that he and Putin did speak about it last week while he was in St. Petersburg, Russia, for an economic summit.

Obama and Putin had an impromptu chat Friday for about 20 minutes.

Obama says it was a continuation of previous conversations he’s had with Putin about securing Syria’s chemical weapons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and US President Barack Obama, right, separately address the media after a G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Friday, September 6, 2013. (photo credit: AP)

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and US President Barack Obama, right, separately address the media after the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, September 6, 2013. (photo credit: AP)

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

Obama discusses Syria with Canadian PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The White House says President Barack Obama has spoken with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper about chemical weapons use in Syria.

The two leaders talked by phone Monday as Obama was seeking congressional approval for a military strike in Syria but also was considering a potential deal for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons stockpiles to avoid a US attack.

The White House says Obama and Harper agreed there must be a strong international response to chemical weapons use to ensure that similar atrocities won’t occur in the future.

Canada is among two dozen countries that have signed a joint statement blaming the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad for using chemical weapons in an attack last month outside Damascus. The statement doesn’t explicitly call for military action.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

Senate vote postponed

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cites “international discussions” in unexpectedly postponing a test vote in the Senate, originally set for Wednesday, on Obama’s call for Congressional authorization of a military strike.

Freed Belgian writer ‘certain’ Assad regime not behind chemical attack

Belgian writer Pierre Piccinin who was freed Sunday after four months of captivity in Syria said upon his return to Europe that he and his fellow captive, Italian journalist Domenico Quirico, were certain that the Assad regime was not responsible for the Aug. 21 chemical attack.

“It’s not the government of Bashar al-Assad that used the sarin gas or another combat gas … we are sure about it following a conversation that we overheard,” Piccinin said in an interview with Belgian broadcaster RTL.

Piccinin’s claim stands in stark contrast to declassified intelligence reports from France and the US, which put the blame for the deadly attack on Assad’s regime. Piccinin, who largely avoids looking into the camera during the interview, did not provide further proof for his claim. Instead, he said he and Quirico would publish their information later, “at an appropriate time.”

Belgian writer Pierre Piccinin, left, and Italian journalist Domenico Quirico (photo credit: @OrozcoSpeaks via Twitter)

Belgian writer Pierre Piccinin, left, and Italian journalist Domenico Quirico (photo credit: @OrozcoSpeaks via Twitter)

Piccinin says he was captured on his eighth trip to Syria, describing himself as a vigorous supporter of the Syrian rebels’ quest to oust Assad and introduce democracy. That, he told RTL, makes it all the more difficult for him to say that it wasn’t Assad behind the al-Ghouta attack.

The claim could not be independently verified, and Quirico was quoted later Monday in La Stampa saying there is no way to know the truth behind it.

“It’s folly to say I know that it wasn’t Assad who used the gas,” he was quoted saying on the website.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

German ex-rapper reportedly injured in Syria

BERLIN — A German rapper who embraced militant Islam and joined jihadists fighting in Syria has reportedly been injured in an airstrike.

The banned Salafist group Millatu Ibrahim said on its website Monday that Denis Cuspert, who now calls himself Abu Talha al-Almani, was injured when a house he was in was attacked by “a fighter jet and a helicopter.”

German former rapper Deso ​​Dogg, aka Abu Talha al-Almani, in Syria. (screen capture: Youtube/josef islam. com)

German former rapper Deso ​​Dogg, aka Abu Talha al-Almani, in Syria. (screen capture: Youtube/josef islam. com)

The group didn’t specify if it was a Syrian government airstrike but denied reports that al-Almani he had been killed.

Al-Almani was born to a Ghanaian father and a German mother, and performed under the name Deso Dogg before converting to Islam.

German security agencies said al-Almani traveled to Egypt last year shortly after the government banned Millatu Ibrahim for calling on Muslims to fight against Germany’s “constitutional order.”

The Associated Press

US warns of North Korean chemical weapons threat

BEIJING — A US official said military action against Syria would deter North Korea from using chemical weapons.

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller said Tuesday that a retaliatory strike against the Syrian government would uphold the international norm that chemical weapons must not be used. Miller said he emphasized to his Chinese counterpart that lowering the threshold for chemical weapons use could put US troops at risk and threaten global security.

China opposes strikes on Syria by the US or its allies in response to an Aug. 21 chemical attack near Damascus that the US says killed more than 1,400 people.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has warned that North Korea possesses a massive stockpile of chemical weapons that threatens South Korea and the 28,000 US troops stationed there.

The Associated Press.

Rights group puts gas attack blame on Damascus

Syrian forces were almost certainly behind two August 21 chemical attacks in Syria, according to a Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday.

“The evidence concerning the type of rockets and launchers used in these attacks strongly suggests that these are weapon systems known and documented to be only in the possession of, and used by, Syrian government armed forces,” the report stated. “Human Rights Watch and arms experts monitoring the use of weaponry in Syria have not documented Syrian opposition forces to be in the possession of the 140mm and 330mm rockets used in the attack, or their associated launchers.”

HRW did not have physical access to the sites of the attacks, and their findings are based on Skype interviews they conducted with “more than 10 witnesses and survivors” and “three doctors who responded to the attacks.” They also cited the findings of experts who studied video and pictures of victims and the remnants of weapons from the sites and maps of the locations of the sites.

The report put the death toll at 837 based on sources from the affected areas, but acknowledged that the lack of official hospitals makes it difficult to calculate a precise figure. The US has put the toll at over 1,400 whereas Doctors Without Borders estimated some 355 people were killed.

Screenshot from an unverified video obtained by MEMRI purporting to show the origin of the chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb on August 21, 2013.

Screenshot from an unverified video obtained by MEMRI purporting to show the origin of the chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb on August 21, 2013.

According to the report, HRW also dismissed claims that the opposition forces were responsible for the attacks or accidentally set off a chemical warhead by mishandling it.

“Claims that the August 21 deaths were caused by an accidental explosion by opposition forces mishandling chemical weapons in their possession are inconsistent with large numbers of deaths at two locations 16 kilometers apart, and documentation of rocket attacks on the sites that morning, as evidenced by witness accounts, the damage visible on the rockets themselves, and their impact craters.”

Spencer Ho

Tehran backs Russian deal

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that Tehran “favorably welcomes” the Russian plan to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international supervision.

Iran has been a longtime ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, providing him with both munitions and trained soldiers in his battle against the opposition forces.

According to a report by AFP, Marzieh Afkham, a senior diplomat in Iran’s Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Tehran “the Islamic Republic of Iran favorably welcomes the initiative which aims at halting all military action” against Syria.

Aaron Kalman

Germany hints at cautious support for Russian proposal

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the Russian proposal for Syria to give up its chemical weapons “interesting,” assuming it was not just a way to buy time for the Assad regime.

Merkel was speaking on a German public television broadcast Monday ahead of an upcoming national election.

“Today there was an interesting proposal from Russia, which called on Syria for the first time to place its chemical weapons under international control,” Merkel said, according to a translation by European news site The Local. “If this is followed by action and not about buying time and this materializes, then Germany will push for that road to be followed.”

“Everything must be tried to achieve this without military intervention,” she added.

Spencer Ho

China supports Russian proposal for Syria

China added its backing to a Russian plan that would see Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile put under international control, Reuters reported on Tuesday.

During a regular press briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing welcomes and supports the proposal put forward by Moscow on Monday. Hong added that a delegation from the Syrian opposition was scheduled to visit China on Tuesday.

Stuart Winer

France: Russia bowed to Western pressure on Syria

France’s top diplomat praised Western pressure for leading to a “turnaround” in Russia’s position about chemical weapons in Syria.

Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius expressed France’s “interest and caution” about a proposal backed by Moscow for the chemical weapons arsenals held by Russia’s ally Syria to be placed under international control and destroyed.

Laurent Fabius (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Laurent Fabius (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Europe-1 radio Tuesday, Fabius said Russia had “changed — very good!” He attributed this to Western pressure and “overwhelming evidence” of a chemical weapons attack in Syria.

The United States and France have threatened military action after the August 21 chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds.

Fabius also warned that finding and destroying “more than 1,000 tons of chemical weapons” would be very difficult and require international verification amid Syria’s civil war.

The Associated Press

Inaction allows Assad to massacre, Turkey warns

Refraining from action against Syria is like telling Bashar Assad he can continue to massacre his people, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Tuesday.

Israel Radio reported that Davutoğlu, while speaking to local TV station, said if no military strike was carried out against Assad’s regime, it would be “giving him a green light” to continue butchering.

Davutoğlu noted that, based on its intelligence sources, Ankara had “no doubt” Assad and his regime were behind the August 21 gas attack, which killed hundreds of people.

Aaron Kalman

Russia readies plan for Syria’s chemical weapons

Russia said it’s working on the details of its proposal for Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control for subsequent dismantling.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Tuesday that Russia is now working with Syria to prepare a detailed plan of action, which will be presented shortly.

Lavrov said that Russia will then be ready to finalize the plan together with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

Syria on Monday quickly welcomed Russia’s initiative, which Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed with President Barack Obama at the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg last week. Obama said Monday the proposal could be “potentially a significant breakthrough,” but he remained skeptical that Syria would follow through.

The Associated Press

McCain: Russian proposal needs time to ‘play out’

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. John McCain said the United States has no choice but to allow time for a new diplomatic offensive on Syria to “play out,” even though he’s skeptical that the plan is genuine.

McCain was asked in a nationally broadcast “CBS This Morning” interview to comment on a proposal by Russia, embraced by Syria, for President Bashar Assad to relinquish his chemical weapons stockpile.

Assad has not publicly acknowledged having such weapons, and President Barack Obama is seeking congressional authorization to attack Syria in reprisal for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that the US blames on Assad’s regime.

McCain, an Arizona Republican and harsh Obama critic, said Tuesday there is “incoherence” in the administration’s statements. But he also said that “not to pursue” the diplomatic option “would be a mistake.”

McCain said he will propose an amendment to the Senate’s Syria resolution incorporating the proposal for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons. The amendment would require verification through international monitors and call for guidelines and benchmarks to be met.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

Obama backs UN discussion of Syria arms proposal

WASHINGTON (AP) — A White House official says President Barack Obama has agreed to discussions at the United Nations Security Council on a proposal from Russia to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.

The official says Obama discussed the proposal Tuesday with French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron. France’s foreign minister says France will float a resolution in the UN Security Council aimed at forcing Syria to make public its chemical weapons program, place it under international control and dismantle it.

Obama has said the proposal marks a potential breakthrough that could halt plans for a US military strike, though he said the details remain unclear.

The official requested anonymity because the official was not authorized to discuss the private conversations.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press

Kerry: US still waiting for Russia plan on Syria

WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State John Kerry says the US is still awaiting a proposal from the Russians about how Syria could agree to give up its chemical weapons, but that the US will not wait for long.

Kerry told a House panel on Tuesday that the Obama administration will give any proposal a hard look, but that it must not be used as a delaying tactic and that it has to be verifiable, real and include tangible conditions for Syrian President Bashar Assad to forfeit his chemical weapons.

Kerry is testifying in the House to persuade members of the Armed Services Committee to back Obama’s request for military action against Syria — a strike that could be avoided if Syria gives up its weapons.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

UN Security Council to hold emergency meeting on Syria

The UN Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on the Syrian crisis Tuesday night at 8.00 pm GMT (11.00 pm Israel time).

The announcement came hours after US President Barack Obama lent his support for discussions at the UN on a proposal from Russia to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.

Obama discussed the proposal Tuesday with French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

France floated a resolution in the UN Security Council aimed at forcing Syria to make public its chemical weapons program, place it under international control and dismantle it — Russia called the draft “unacceptable.”

We intend to give up chemical weapons altogether, says Syrian FM

Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Moallem, who has been in Moscow this week for intense talks, was quoted Tuesday saying Syria would indeed open all relevant sites to UN inspectors, would not produce chemical weapons, and would sign all relevant treaties.

“We fully support Russia’s initiative concerning chemical weapons in Syria, and we are ready to cooperate. As a part of the plan, we intend to join the Chemical Weapons Convention,” he said in an interview with the Lebanon-based Al-Maydeen TV.

“We are ready to fulfill our obligations in compliance with this treaty, including through the provision of information about our chemical weapons. We will open our storage sites, and cease production. We are ready to open these facilities to Russia, other countries and the United Nations.”

“We intend to give up chemical weapons altogether,” he added.

Putin: Syria plan will work only if US rejects force

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that a plan for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile will only work if the United States agrees not to use force.

Putin told reporters on Tuesday that the plan “can work, only in the event that we hear that the American side and those who support the USA in this sense, reject the use of force.”

“You can’t really ask Syria, or any other country, to disarm unilaterally while military action against it is being contemplated,” he added.

“We will work together with Syrians and our US partners, and…I hope this will be a big step forwards towards a peaceful resolution to the Syrian crisis,” said Putin.

President Barack Obama has thrown his support behind a French resolution to the UN Security Council even as he pushes the idea of US airstrikes against Assad’s regime if that effort fails.

The resolution would demand that Syria open its chemical weapons program to inspection, place it under international control, and ultimately dismantle it.

(AP and Times of Israel staff)

Kerry: Syria deal must be in binding UN resolution

Secretary of State John Kerry says a proposed Russian deal with Syria to give up its chemical weapons stockpiles must be enshrined in a binding UN Security Council resolution that sets consequences for Syrian non-compliance.

Kerry said Tuesday that Russian suggestions that the UN endorsement come in the form of a non-binding statement from the rotating president of the Security Council would be unacceptable to the Obama administration. Kerry said the US has to have “a full resolution from the Security Council in order to have confidence that this has the force that it has to have.” He added that the resolution must have “consequences if games are played and somebody tries to undermine this.”

Just minutes after Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime announced Tuesday that it would take those steps, Kerry said he hoped that it would “go further” in the interests of peace. He said the Syrian government must “live up to what they said just said they would do” and then cooperate with Russia “to work out a formula by which those weapons could be transferred to international control and destroyed.”

He said the regime should also enter a genuine dialogue with the opposition.

Kerry’s comments came during an online Google+ roundtable.

(AP)

UN emergency meeting on Syria canceled at Russia’s request

An emergency meeting on the Syrian crisis at the UN Security Council  was canceled after Russia withdrew its request for the session

The meeting was due to take place at 8.00 pm GMT and was expected to focus on the Russian proposal to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control, which Syria has agreed to do.

AP source: Kerry to see Russian FM in Geneva

WASHINGTON (AP) — A State Department official says President Barack Obama is sending Secretary of State John Kerry to Switzerland this week to discuss a possible deal on Syria’s chemical weapons with Russia’s foreign minister.

The official said Kerry would meet with Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday to try to reach a deal on a UN Security Council resolution that would require Syria to give up its chemical weapons or face consequences.

The official was not authorized to discuss the mission publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The last-minute trip reflects a flurry of developments that have occurred since Russia said Monday it would push Syria to get rid of its chemical weapons stockpiles and Syria agreed.

Obama addresses the nation on Syria

Speaking from the White House, President Barack Obama outlines his argument for military action against the Assad regime, vows not to put American boots on the ground in Syria. Obama insists he prefers diplomatic solutions to the crisis.

 

Ahead of President Barack Obama’s speech, the Washington Post reported that 149 members of the House of Representatives opposed military strikes against the Assad regime, 102 were leaning towards no, 156 remained undecided and a mere 26 advocated strikes.

Obama defends the efficacy of possible airstrikes against Syria, saying “The US military doesn’t do pin pricks.

Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.”

At the same time the president vows not to put American boots on the ground in Syria.”I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan,” he says, nor a prolonged air war like Libya or Kosovo.

Wielding double-edged sword of diplomacy and military threat, Obama says Washington will put forward a resolution at the UN Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons, but at the same time has “ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad, and to be in a position to respond.”

The president closes by channeling his predecessor, president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who said that “Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.”

Obama emphasizes that America’s “ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria.”

Privately, UN talks begin on Syria chemical arms

Tense negotiations have begun on a proposed UN resolution that would put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and end a diplomatic stalemate over a deadly Aug. 21 poison gas attack, a French official said Wednesday.

The plan for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons, initiated by Russia, appeared to ease one diplomatic stalemate only to open up new potential for impasse as Moscow rejected US and French demands for a binding UN resolution with “very severe consequences” for non-compliance.

The French official close to the president, who spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations remained sensitive, said Russia objected not only to making the resolution militarily enforceable, but also to blaming the Aug. 21 attack on the Syrian government and demanding that those responsible be taken before an international criminal court.

Wary of falling into what the French foreign minister called “a trap,” Paris and Washington are pushing for a UN Security Council resolution to verify Syria’s disarmament. Russia, a close ally of Syrian leader Bashar Assad and the regime’s chief patron on the international stage, dismissed France’s proposal on Tuesday.

AP

Syria renouncing arms shows strength, official says

Syria’s acceptance of a proposal to relinquish its chemical weapons stockpile should not be interpreted as a concession or sign of weakness, a senior government official said Wednesday. Damascus’ agreement, he added, has removed one of the pretexts for foreign airstrikes against Syria.

Cabinet minister Ali Haidar said Syria’s chemical weapons, which he described as “the nuclear of the poor,” was meant to achieve strategic balance against Israel, “an enemy that we’ve been fighting for more than 60 years.”

He said there was now “a new kind of strategic balance” in place, and consequently Syria can afford to relinquish its stockpile as part of an overall plan and “not out of fear of any enemy.” He declined to elaborate.

Haidar spoke in an interview with The Associated Press in Damascus as tense negotiations began on a proposed UN resolution that would put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and end a diplomatic stalemate over a deadly Aug. 21 suspected poison gas attack.

Ali Haider, the Syrian Minister for Reconciliation Affairs, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Damascus, Syria on Sept. 11, 2013 (photo credit: AP)

Ali Haider, the Syrian Minister for Reconciliation Affairs, speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Damascus, Syria on Sept. 11, 2013 (photo credit: AP)

The plan for Syria to give up its arsenal, believed to be one of the deadliest in the world, appeared to ease the crisis over looming Western strikes against Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus, only to open up new potential for impasse as Moscow rejected US and French demands for a binding UN resolution with “very severe consequences” for non-compliance.

Haidar said the proposal, put forward by the Russians, is still a “broad headline” that needs to be developed. He added that Syria was ready to sign the chemical weapons convention but not if such a move is imposed.

“In broad terms it is ready, but as I said as part of an overall solution and not if it is imposed on us,” Haidar said.

“Syria does not accept to have anything imposed on it and all the steps that some interpreted as concessions are Syrian victories, in the end,” he said.

Asked about the difficulties of implementing the transfer and relinquishment of Syria’s chemical weapons to the backdrop of a raging civil war in the country, he replied: “There was no talk about moving and transferring control. There was talk about putting these weapons under international supervision,” he said.

Haidar said the Syrian leadership has succeeded in taking away a pretext for war but that the treat remains.

“It is a battle of wills between the will for peace and protecting the Syrian people and the will for war against the Syrian people and the region for the sake of Israel,” he said. He added, however, that such details would be left to the experts.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press

McCain: Rebels fighting Assad feel abandoned by US

Sen. John McCain said Wednesday he worries that the cause of rebels fighting Syria’s President Bashar Assad has been obscured in the rapid-fire military and diplomatic events following a chemical weapons attack near Damascus.

“I feel very badly for my friends in the Free Syrian Army today,” McCain said.

The Arizona Republican said that he is not against negotiating to defuse the chemical weapons issue, but he also said, “There’s nothing that will drive Syrians more into the hands of extremists than to feel they have been abandoned by the West.”

One of the persistent questions about US policy in war-ravaged Syria is to what extent the terrorist network al-Qaida is involved in the efforts to end Assad’s rule. McCain said President Barack Obama should have acted more forcefully against Assad many months ago.

McCain said he is concerned that the Russian plan for securing Syria’s chemical weapons could be a “rope-a-dope” delaying tactic. But he added that it should take only a few days for the US to determine whether the proposal is serious and workable.

The GOP’s 2008 presidential candidate also said that should the Russian proposal fall apart, it could actually help Obama’s struggle to win congressional support for a limited military strike against Syria. He said that’s because the failure of diplomacy could bolster Obama’s argument that a US attack was a necessary course of action.

McCain spoke at a breakfast sponsored by the Wall Street Journal, the morning after Obama used a nationally broadcast speech to seek public support for military action.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press

US won’t attack if Syria is ‘honest,’ says Peres

Two days after casting doubt on a Russian-brokered deal that would see Damascus give up its chemical weapons, President Shimon Peres gave a cautious nod to the plan, saying Damascus could avoid US airstrikes if it played its part.

“If Syria is honest and will take real steps to remove and destroy the chemical weapons in its territory, the US will not attack,” Peres said while touring a factory in the north.

“If there will be a crack in Syria’s integrity I have no doubt that the US will act militarily,” he added.

On Monday, Peres cautioned against putting too much stock in the deal, saying “the Syrians are not trustworthy,” and that their acceptance of the Russian proposal meant very little.

On Tuesday evening, US President Barack Obama asked Congress to delay voting on using force against Syria in order to try and pursue a diplomatic solution to the crisis. The American president added Tuesday that should diplomacy fail the US military will “be ready to respond” against the Syrian government.

The Russian proposal, which Damascus agreed to on Tuesday, would put the country’s chemical weapons under international supervision. The regime is accused of using sarin gas to kill over a thousand people outside Damascus on August 21.

The Syrian civil war, which has raged for over two years, has claimed over 100,000 lives, according to the United Nations.

“Syria will not go back to being what it was,” Peres said at the factory.

UN chief: Syria situation an international failure

The international community’s inability to prevent the “atrocities” committed in Syria is a source of shame for the UN and displays a colossal failure on its part, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday.

Speaking at a meeting on preventing genocide, Ban said that the world power’s “collective failure to prevent atrocity crimes in Syria of the past two-and-a-half years will remain a heavy burden on the standing of the United Nations and its member states.”

Ban went on to state that the UN Security Council must play “an effective role in promoting an end to the Syrian tragedy.”

The UN Secretary General added that although the international community had made a commitment to prevent occurrences of genocide, the situation in Syria indicated that world leaders had not lived up to their promise.

“As we see around us, atrocities continue to be committed,” he said. “Many observers regard the international community’s divisions and immobility as a failure of the responsibility to protect.”

Diplomats move on two fronts with Syria weapons

Key international players were moving on two diplomatic fronts Wednesday to try to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and a fresh effort appeared to be underway to get the government and opposition to peace talks.

The five veto-wielding members of the Security Council, who have been deeply divided over Syria, met late Wednesday at Russia’s UN mission to discuss what to include in a new resolution requiring that Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile be secured and dismantled. They later left the meeting without commenting.

At the same time, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were heading to Geneva with teams of experts for broader-ranging talks Thursday about the nuts and bolts of putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and destroying them, diplomats said.

The UN-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, was also heading to Geneva to be available to meet Kerry and Lavrov, whose efforts to start peace talks to end the 2 1/2-year Syrian conflict have been stymied by a government offensive and a deadly suspected poison gas attack on Aug. 21.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

Putin warns against US intervention in Syria

In an op-ed published Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin bypassed the Obama administration and made his case against military intervention in Syria directly to the American people.

Putin, in a piece that seemed calibrated to address the American public’s fears regarding an additional military entanglement, offered a stern warning.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (photo credit: AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko/File)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (photo credit: AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko/File)

A potential strike by the US against the Bashar Assad regime would create more victims and could spread the conflict beyond Syria as well as “unleash a new wave of terrorism,” wrote the Russian leader.

“It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa.”

He said that a US strike, without the unanimous consent of the UN Security Council, “could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”

Yoel Goldman

US now arming Syrian rebels

Syrian opposition forces began receiving weapons from the United States about two weeks ago, the Washington Post reported on Thursday.morning.

The shipments of light weapons began arriving shortly after the alleged chemical attack on August 21 that reportedly killed some 1,400 people. At that point, President Barack Obama began seriously mulling US military intervention.

In June, the US announced that it would begin to arm the rebels after Obama said he had “conclusive evidence” that Syrian President Bashar Assad had employed chemical weapons in smaller scale attacks several times during the year.

This shipment marks the first time since the announcement in June that weapons have in fact been sent to to Syrian opposition forces from the US, the report said.

Asher Zeiger

UN to blame Assad for chemical attack, report says

An investigative team from the UN has gathered what it is terming a “wealth of evidence” indicating that Syrian President Bashar Assad was responsible for an August 21 chemical attack that the US says killed over 1,400 people, Foreign Policy Magazine reported late Wednesday.

The investigators will present their findings on Monday to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, offering strong circumstantial evidence that government forces were responsible for the deadly attack. The report is based on the team’s examination of spent rocket casings, ammunition, and soil, blood, and urine test samples, according to the report, but will stop short of directly accusing Assad of perpetrating the attack on his own people.

Assad has denied all along responsibility for the attack, claiming that opposition forces were behind the August chemical weapons attack and similar, smaller-scale attacks earlier this year.

Asher Zeiger

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