Obama’s Speech Delays Strike, Explores Diplomatic Opening:
In his prime-time address to the U.S., President Obama pitched the American people and reluctant members of Congress on the need for a strike on Syria. But he delayed the prospect of ordering one in order to explore a Russian-Syrian diplomatic path that would have President Bashar al-Assad give up his chemical weapons arsenal. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Russian counterparts on Thursday to advance the plan.
One snag has already surfaced: Russia wants the U.S. to take the prospect of military strikes off the table before negotiating a handover of Assad’s chemical weapons. Obama and his allies believe the threat of force needs to hang over the process to move Assad toward making a deal and enforce stiff consequences if he doesn’t. France drafted a Security Council resolutionthat would require Syria to make a declaration of its chemical weapons within 14 days, or face punishment – a Chapter VII resolution, as it’s known. Russia has so far rejected the plan.
Syria has said it would sign a chemical weapons ban, open its storage sites, and cease production of chemical weapons, said Foreign Minister Walid Muallem. But in a field of Russian deals and Syrian promises, Washington is trying to hold up an approach of “trust, but verify” – and potentially enforce. In Damascus, Assad is celebrating the move toward diplomacy as “a major tactical victory in the face of a looming U.S.-led attack,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Analysts See Major Challenge in Destroying Assad’s Arsenal.
Chemical weapons experts say it would take years to dispose of Syria’s stockpile, believed to be the third-largest in the world. The Daily Telegraph has this info-map of chemical weapons sites around Syria.
In an interview with Syria Deeply, Secretary of State John Kerry said the entire stockpile remains in Assad’s custody and therefore could be accounted for, then handed over.
“For better or worse, the fact that Assad has been running a highly controlled and very hierarchical process has forced them to contain all of these weapons in the regime-controlled areas,” he said. “As a result of that, it is our argument that they therefore can control access to these sites.”
U.N. Cites War Crimes on Both Sides, Blame Falling Heavily on the Regime
A new UN report charts the horrific human-rights abuses in Syria’s war, citing massacres perpetrated by the government and a rise in the number of people killed in regime custody. “Relentless shelling has killed thousands of civilians and displaced the populations of entire towns … an untold number of men, children and women have disappeared. Many have died in detention,” the report said. (The New York Times offers this synopsis). The U.N. report also lists abuses by rebel forces that include the mass killing of Shiites, execution of government soldiers, and recruitment of child soldiers to fight the Assad regime.
Suggested Reads from Our Editorial Team:
Council on Foreign Relations: Probing for Chemical Attacks in Syria
The National/ Opinion: Assad Supporters Caught Out by Offer of Chemical Weapons Concession
NY Times/ Opinion: A Syrian’s Cry for Help
Al Monitor/ Opinion: Russia’s Transformational Diplomacy on Syria
Washington Post/ Opinion: Syria’s Plan to Give Up Its Chemical Weapons Could Make Things Worse, Not Better
The National/ Opinion: Gulf States Dismiss Russian Suggestion That Syria Hand Over Chemical Weapons
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