• U.S., Russia Strike a Syria Deal That Only Goes So Far. If the framework agreed over the weekend is effectively followed, it will eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal by the middle of next year. On Monday the U.S., France and Britain agreed to step up pressure on Assad to stick with the deal.
It doesn’t do much to quell the civil war in Syria – some argue it will make it worse. Fighting has escalated during the chemical weapons talks, and clashes continued throughout the weekend, as Assad’s conventional weapons continue to pound rebel-held areas. Regime officials declared victory in the chemical weapons deal in what Reuters referred to as a gift for Assad. Anne Barnard of the New York Times wrote that the chemical weapons deal “left rebels deflated and government supporters jubilant. And both sides say it means the United States knows Assad is not going anywhere anytime soon.”
• The Iran Factor Comes to the Fore. Discussion and diplomacy around Syria’s war has shifted focus to Iran – its alleged involvement in the conflict, bolstering President Bashar al-Assad, and the fallout on long-running efforts to curb Iran’s own nuclear program.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Iran is dialing up its presence in Syria, training Shiite militiamen to do battle, in what it sees as a sectarian war against a largely Sunni uprising. The BBC identified an internet video showing Iranian fighters in Syria, what that channel called “the first tangible indication of Iran’s involvement in the fighting in Syria on the side of the government forces.” Officially, Iran’s diplomats have denied military involvement in Syria, though the head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards has said that its feared Quds Force is providing “intellectual and advisory assistance” to the Assad regime.
Speaking in Israel, Secretary of State John Kerry said an agreement to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons could “set a marker” for doing the same with Iran’s nuclear program. But critics say the Syria deal will embolden Iran, in showing the uncertainty of U.S. policy and a lack of resolve towards a military strike.
On Sunday President Barack Obama confirmed he had traded letters with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, a potential step forwards in diplomacy. Obama also argued that the Syria deal does not make Washington look soft in the eyes of Tehran.
“My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn’t draw a lesson that we haven’t struck – to think we won’t strike Iran,” he said in an interview with ABC’s This Week. “What they should draw from this lesson is that there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically.”
• U.N. Report on Chemical Weapons Attack Expected Today. On Monday U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon will present the findings of a report investigating the chemical weapons attack on August 21 – the attack that set off the threat of a U.S. military strike and a round of diplomacy to stop it. The evidence will reportedly point to Syrian government involvement; the Assad regime has denied responsibility for the incident.
Today’s report will presage a flurry of Syria talks at the U.N. General Assembly next week. Syria’s opposition is expected to meet on the sidelines of the meeting in New York.
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