– Putin Sets New Condition on Syrian Chemical Weapons Plan (Bloomberg, Sep 10, 2013):
Russian President Vladimir Putin set a condition that endangers the diplomatic initiative to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, saying it depends on the U.S. and other nations renouncing the use of force against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Putin’s remarks complicate the outlook for the Russian proposal a day after it was presented by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who had seized on comments in London by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry about the possibility of Syria turning over its chemical-weapons stockpile.
Kerry and Lavrov plan to meet in Geneva on Sept. 12 to discuss Syria, according to a State Department official who asked not to be identified in advance of an announcement.
Russia’s effort to reach a deal “makes sense and can function and work only in the case that we hear that the American side — and all that support the U.S. in this situation — renounce the use of force,” Putin said, according to a statement in Russian today on the Kremlin’s website.
Putin’s comments put him directly at odds with President Barack Obama, who met today with Senate Democrats. The president asked senators to “keep the threat of credible military action available,” Democratic Senator Tom Carper of Delaware said after the meeting.
Kerry told the House Armed Services Committee in a hearing today that only such a “credible use of force” threat — bolstered by Congress authorizing strikes — can force a diplomatic solution after Assad used chemical weapons against his own citizens.
While Syria hasn’t admitted it has chemical weapons, Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said his country now is willing to join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans such arms, according to a statement on the website of Russia’s Interfax news agency. The convention, joined by 189 countries, prohibits production of chemical weapons and requires their disclosure and eventual destruction.
Disputes over what should be included in a United Nations resolution led Russia to cancel a UN Security Council meeting on Syria that it had requested for today, according to two officials at the world body who asked not to be identified in advance of a decision.
Strike on Hold
While the U.S. wants to maintain the threat of military action as leverage on Assad, Obama told ABC News yesterday that a U.S. attack “absolutely” would be put on hold if Syria were to follow through on Russia’s initiative and give up its chemical weapons arsenal.
Kerry, who spoke with Lavrov today, said that Russia needs to show its disarmament plan can work because “this cannot be a game.” A deal on Syria must be contained in a binding Security Council resolution with “consequences” for non-compliance, he said during an online chat session today.
Fissures developed between France and Russia over whether to hold Assad’s regime responsible for using chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 attack in which the U.S. says 1,400 people died, including more than 400 children.
France said it would ask the Security Council to approve a resolution demanding that Syria place its chemical arms under international control, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said today in Paris. The draft also will call for Assad to be punished for the chemical-weapons attack, Fabius said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called the French proposal unacceptable and said in a statement on its website that it would offer its own draft to the Security Council.
Obama, who consulted today with U.K. and French leaders on working together at the UN, is scheduled to present his case for U.S. military action in a nationally televised address tonight.
Earlier in the day, Obama’s top national security advisers recalibrated their campaign for congressional authorization of military strikes, amid questions about whether and how Russia’s initiative would work.
A bipartisan group of U.S. senators worked on a proposal that would authorize a military strike if Syria didn’t meet benchmarks to relinquish its chemical weapons, according to a person familiar with the Senate talks who asked not to be identified discussing the drafting. The group of senators was led by by Republican John McCain of Arizona and Democrat Charles Schumer of New York.
‘Not Unlimited Time’
“The Senate should give these international discussions time to play out — but not unlimited time,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said today. Democratic senators who met today with Obama said he asked them to delay a vote on authorizing force.
There was no indication of how the developments would affect sentiment in Congress against authorizing force. In the Senate, 34 members would vote no or are leaning that way, 27 would vote yes or are leaning toward a yes vote, and 44 are undecided or haven’t said, according to a count by Bloomberg News. In the House, 224 members are opposed or leaning against the authorization, a majority, with 27 voting yes or leaning yes and 182 undecided or unknown.
After having pressed Congress to back military action against a defiant Assad, Kerry said the threat of U.S. military action is still needed for a potential diplomatic outcome that averts air strikes.