September 11, 2013

Diplomats move on 2 fronts on Syria weapons

The White House and world leaders are trying to draw up a viable plan to get Syria's chemical weapons under control, while also trying to negotiate a peace in the civil war.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — 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.

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Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken walks to an underground facility to brief lawmakers on the situation in Syria, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Last night, President Obama delivered a nationally televised address on the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war and why he wants to punish the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

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A Syrian refugee sits on the ground at a temporary refugee camp in the eastern Lebanese Town of Al-Faour, Bekaa valley near the border with Syria, on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013. Lebanon is a tiny country that shares a porous border with Syria, and has seen cross-border shelling, sectarian clashes and car bombings in recent months related to the civil war raging next door. Key international players were moving on two diplomatic fronts Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013 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. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

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

At the same time, U.S. 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 U.N.-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.

The diplomatic flurry follows the threat of U.S. strikes against President Bashar Assad's regime and a surprise offer from Kerry that Syria could avert U.S. military action by turning over "every single bit of his chemical weapons" to international control within a week. Russia, Syria's most important ally, and Assad's government quickly agreed on the broad proposal, but details still need to be worked out.

A senior U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because contacts have been private, said Thursday's meeting between Kerry and Lavrov will be an exploratory session to gauge whether they can embark on "the herculean task" of dismantling Syria's chemical weapons while the country is at war.

While serious differences have already emerged — especially on whether a U.N. resolution should be militarily enforceable as the U.S. and its Western allies are demanding — the diplomatic moves represent the first major effort in more than a year to try to get supporters of the Syrian government and opposition on the same page.

Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to end the conflict, which has left the U.N.'s most powerful body paralyzed as the war escalates and the death toll surpasses 100,000. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this week called the council's paralysis embarrassing.

"What the secretary-general has been pressing for is the Security Council to come to a united decision," U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq said Wednesday. "It's crucially important at this late stage of the war that they come together and take some action that can prevent both the problems regarding the use of chemical weapons and the wider problem of solving this conflict."

The White House said Wednesday it is not putting a timeline on a diplomatic resolution to the crisis in Syria, though Press Secretary Jay Carney said putting Syria's chemical weapons under international control, "obviously will take some time."

France has proposed a draft resolution that demands Syria's chemical weapons be put under international control and dismantled. It also condemns the Aug. 21 chemical attack the Obama administration says killed 1,400 people and calls for the perpetrators to be sent to the International Criminal Court for prosecution. Submitted under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, which makes it enforceable militarily, it warns of "very serious consequences" if Syria does not comply.

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