A casual response to a reporter’s question from a tired secretary of state while
in London on Monday may have just shifted US foreign policy in the Middle
After meeting with British officials over the Syrian crisis, John
Kerry said that the US could forgo a military strike against targets of
President Bashar Assad’s regime if he were, within a week, to sign the Chemical
Weapons Convention and completely forfeit his arsenal, estimated to weigh over
1,000 tons by French intelligence officials.
“He could turn over every
single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next
week – turn it over, all of it,” Kerry said, throwing up his hands at the press
conference. “But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done,
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov jumped on the
comments, calling a news conference to announce a proposal that would demand
Syria allow international oversight over its chemical weapons
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al- Moallem, in Moscow at the
time, said that Syria “welcomed” the proposal, but stopped short of saying
explicitly that Assad’s government accepted it.
“I state that the Syrian
Arab Republic welcomes the Russian initiative, motivated by the Syrian
leadership’s concern for the lives of our citizens and the security of our
country, and also motivated by our confidence in the wisdom of the Russian
leadership, which is attempting to prevent American aggression against our
people,” he said.
A US government official told The Jerusalem Post on
Monday that the Russian proposal was an effort to buy time, and that it would be
“There’s no mechanism to implement what the Russians are
proposing,” said the official.
The Organization for the Prohibition of
Chemical Weapons is the only organization that has monitoring power over
chemical arms, the official remarked. But the OPCW only has jurisdiction over
signatories of the Chemical Weapons Convention, of which Syria is not a
And the OPCW does not tolerate the existence of such weapons, but
oversees their destruction, which the Russians have not proposed.
Assad truly welcomed the proposal, it would mark a historic shift in Syrian
Syria is one of only seven countries that has not signed the
Chemical Weapons Convention, and the acceptance of an international monitor
requires that the Assad regime admit to the existence of their decades-old
chemical weapons program. Assad has yet to do that, even as of Sunday, when he
declined to confirm the program to American journalist Charlie Rose in an
But as the day progressed, international actors began to come
out in favor of the proposal.
Speaking after meeting with US President
Barack Obama at the White House, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said
that Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles were a danger to the world if left
unaddressed, and that the use of weapons of mass destruction “violates a
universal norm at the heart of our global order.”
“This is a fluid
situation,” Clinton said, adding that, if the regime “immediately” forfeited its
chemical arms, “that would be an important step.”
“We’re only having this
discussion within the context of the threat of US military action,” said State
Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf on Monday. “We can’t have this be
another stalling tactic.”
Harf said that the US would take a “hard look”
at the proposal, but that it was a “highly unlikely” scenario, and that the
secretary “was not making a proposal” when he was speaking in London to
Senator Diane Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence
Committee and one of the most vocal proponents of the president’s plan for
military action against Syria, came out in favor of the proposal on
“I believe that Russia can be most effective in encouraging the
Syrian president to stop any use of chemical weapons and place all his chemical
munitions, as well as storage facilities, under United Nations control until
they can be destroyed,” Feinstein said in a statement.
Minister David Cameron said on Monday that Syria should be encouraged to place
its chemical weapons arsenal under international supervision, but said the world
needed to ensure that discussion of such an idea did not become a
“If Syria were to put its chemical weapons beyond use under
international supervision clearly that would be a big step forward,” Cameron
“We have to be careful, though, to make sure this is not
a distraction tactic to discuss something else rather than the problem on the
In response to questions about the Russian proposal, UN
Secretary-General Ban Kimoon said Monday that he may ask the Security Council to
demand Syria move its chemical arms stocks to Syrian sites where they can be
safely stored and destroyed.
Speaking to reporters in New York, Ban said
he may ask the 15-nation body to demand that Syria join the international
anti-chemical weapons convention, a treaty that Damascus has never
US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power broke her careful silence
around the issue of Syria at the UN on Thursday, and spoke to the press about
the goings-on within the meetings between the permanent five members of the
Security Council. Power said that the US’s assessment of the situation led to
“one stark conclusion,” that Assad had attacked civilians with chemical weapons,
but that the Security Council would not be doing anything about it anytime
“We in the United States agree with the view that – at times like
this – the Security Council should live up to its obligations and should act,”
she said. “Unfortunately, for the past two and a half years, the system devised
in 1945 precisely to deal with threats of this nature did not work as it was
supposed to. Instead, the system has protected the prerogatives of Russia, the
patron of a regime that would brazenly stage the world’s largest chemical
weapons attack in a quarter century.”
She went on to blame Russia for
blocking the Security Council from issuing a press statement following the
alleged attack on August 21, and said that because of the rift between the
parties, she saw “no viable path forward in this Security Council.”
asked about the fact that there were no discussions about Syria on the Security
Council’s program of work for September, president of the Security Council Gary
Quinlan of Australia told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday that
“most of us have concluded for that moment that it would not be productive or
useful to have a discussion on this in the Security Council because it would
lead to nowhere.”
Despite the Security Council’s seeming resignation to
inaction, Syria’s crisis dominated the G20 meeting in St.
told reporters at a short press conference on Monday, “in a way that no other
political development has ever dominated at the G20.”
That main focus, he
said, was on the alleged use of chemical weapons, and on the UN investigative
team’s forthcoming report.
Ban said he had not yet received the report,
nor did he know what it will contain.
But, he said, “should [the use of
chemical weapons] be confirmed, this would be an abominable crime, and we would
have to do something about it.”
To that end, Ban called on the Security
Council to end its “embarrassing paralysis,” and said that he was already
considering various proposals he could present to the Security Council for what
the next step might be.
Ban said that he had “taken note” of the
statements made on Monday both by Lavrov and by Kerry.
“I welcome these
ideas,” he said. “I’m considering urging the Security Council to demand the
immediate transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons and chemical precursor stocks to
places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and
Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation continues to worsen, UN
Undersecretary- General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos told reporters on
Friday. UNHCR has asked for $4.4 billion for refugee work in and around Syria at
the beginning of 2013, but so far is still lacking $3.3b. in funds.
are continuing to push for additional funding,” she said, via livestream from
Lebanon. “This is the biggest appeal we have made. Our concern is not just about
raising money for Syria, but also about raising money for other crisis in Yemen,
Sudan, South Sudan, Afghanistan.”
In terms of what the UN would do with
its humanitarian personnel currently in Syria – numbered somewhere around 1,000
– if there were a military strike, Amos said, they were “mindful of the possible
impact” that an attack could have, both for UN workers and in terms of how the
flow of refugees might increase.
“We always have contingency plans on the
basis that numbers might go up unexpectedly,” he said.
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