Kerry warns Syria must move quickly on chemical weapons
The emergency talks in Geneva are aimed at laying down a blueprint for international seizure of the chemical weapons the United States has said Syrian forces used to gas to death more than 1,400 people last month.
The Washington Post and The New York Times
U.N. report on poison-gas attack could come as early as Monday
The secretary-general of the United Nations could receive by Monday the report on last month’s deadly chemical-weapons attack in Syria, diplomats said Thursday. Some said they expected the findings would point unambiguously to Syrian government culpability.
The chemical-weapons inspectors preparing the report, who left Syria 10 days after the Aug. 21 attack, are responsible for determining only whether such weapons were used, not who used them. Their report will avoid any assignment of blame, as instructed by the secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon.
But diplomats and arms-control experts knowledgeable about the type and volume of evidence the inspectors amassed in Syria said they believed the report would be a meticulously detailed account that would lead readers to draw the conclusion that only the Syrian military forces could have carried out such an attack, which asphyxiated at least hundreds of civilians. The United States has said more than 1,400 died.
The United States, France and Britain have concluded, based on their own analyses, that President Bashar Assad’s forces were responsible, and Human Rights Watch has also drawn that conclusion. Assad and his principal foreign ally, Russia, have asserted the attack must have been carried out by insurgents.
The U.N. report is important because it will be regarded as the most objective, scientifically based and politically neutral version of the attack, which has become a defining event in the Syrian conflict,
The report’s authors are working under the auspices of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which was established in 1997 to carry out the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty.
The New York Times
GENEVA — U.S.-Russian talks over eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons began Thursday on a wary note, as Secretary of State John Kerry said U.S. military forces remained poised to attack Syria if a credible agreement is not rapidly reached and implemented.
Syrian President Bashar Assad added to the tension by saying he is willing to cede control of his chemical arsenal to international control — but only if the United States stops threatening military action and arming rebel forces trying to unseat him.
Assad, in an interview with a Russian television station, said he is prepared to sign the international convention banning the weapons and would adhere to its “standard procedure” of handing over stockpile data a month later.
Kerry made clear he had a much shorter time frame in mind and that Assad was not a party to the negotiations. “There is nothing ‘standard’ about this process,” he said as he headed into an initial meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
“The words of the Syrian regime, in our judgment, are simply not enough,” Kerry said.
The emergency talks are aimed at laying down a blueprint for international seizure of the weapons the United States has said Syrian forces used to gas to death more than 1,400 people last month near Damascus.
Russia, Syria’s main international backer and weapons supplier, offered Monday to negotiate the issue, after President Obama sent U.S. warships to the Mediterranean and asked Congress to authorize a military strike against the Syrian government over its use of chemical weapons on its own people.
The legislation, an uphill battle for Obama amid skepticism from lawmakers, is on hold pending the outcome of the talks in Geneva.
The pause button also has been hit at the United Nations, where the United States, Britain and France have been readying a Security Council resolution designed to authorize the use of force if Syria does not adhere to any U.S.-Russia agreement on the weapons.
With a tableau of U.S. and Russian flags behind them, Kerry and Lavrov stood side by side in a public show of joint purpose Thursday. But differences quickly re-emerged as Lavrov stressed the “solution of this problem will remove any need for a strike.”
Kerry emphasized that “only the credible threat of force” had prompted Assad to acknowledge his nation possessed chemical weapons in the first place, and that a military option was needed to ensure Assad fulfilled his promises.
Lavrov seemed surprised by the length and tone of Kerry’s statement. “I’m not prepared with the extended political statement,” Lavrov said. “Diplomacy likes silence.”
Kerry, meanwhile, noted he had not heard some of Lavrov’s remarks, which had been translated, and asked that the interpreter repeat them.
Turning to Kerry, Lavrov joked in English that that was not necessary. “Don’t worry,” he said.
“You want me to take your word for it?” Kerry said with a smile. “It is a little early for that.”
The two men then left to meet together along with their teams of arms-control experts. The U.S. and Russian officials were to meet again Friday and probably Saturday.
Meanwhile, Farhan Haq, a spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said the United Nations had received a document from the Syrian government indicating its commitment to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
It was not clear whether the document, which he said was written in Arabic and was still being translated, included any preconditions.
“This starts the process” of becoming a member of the convention, Haq said.
Kerry also met Thursday afternoon with Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy who would play a major role if talks on a potential political settlement in Syria were resumed.
But Obama’s decision to delay any military action and explore a disarmament plan with the Russians, who have been a main supplier of arms to the Assad government, has distressed much of the Syrian opposition and raised fresh questions about whether the rebels would take part in such a peace conference.
“They’re upset,” a senior State Department official said. “They don’t trust this at all.”
In a recent statement, Gen. Salim Idris, the head of the military wing of the Syrian opposition, rejected the Russian initiative and said the Syrians who carried out the Aug. 21 chemical attack near Damascus that started the current crisis must be punished.
Kerry spoke Thursday with Idris and Ahmad al-Jarba, president of the Syrian opposition, and sought to assure them that the military option remained on the table and that the Obama administration would insist any understanding about Syria’s chemical weapons be verifiable and “enforceable,” a State Department official said.