WASHINGTON/NEW YORK – The Obama administration on Wednesday declared that the
credible threat of force against Syria led its embattled leader, Bashar Assad,
to renounce his chemical arsenal after decades of denying its
On Monday, Russia proposed that Syria cede control of its
chemical weapons program to international monitors so it can be
Syrian leaders accepted the deal, saying their government
would identify its chemical sites and sign the Chemical Weapons
“It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and
any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments,”
President Barack Obama said in an address to his nation on Tuesday night. “But
this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons
without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s
The deal is on the table, Obama said, “in part because
of the credible threat of US military action,” and because of his personal
diplomacy with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
address, originally scheduled to make the case to a skeptical public that
striking Syria was both a moral and strategic imperative of the US, became a
justification for the threat of force as well as an explanation of why his
administration would give diplomacy a chance.
“I’ve ordered our military
to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad, and to be in a
position to respond if diplomacy fails,” he said. “Our ideals and principles, as
well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership
of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be
US Secretary of State John Kerry is set to begin two days of
meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday to
discuss the details of a plan.
They will be joined by chemical weapons
experts, who will explain exactly what would be required of an investigations
team challenged with dismantling a 1,000- ton chemical weapons arsenal in the
middle of Syria’s civil war.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said
the administration had a “responsibility to pursue” the deal, which would, if
realized, be “an enormous step forward.”
“We’re not naive about the
challenges. We don’t think this will be easy. But that’s why we’re going to
Geneva,” Psaki said.
Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded to the
possible diplomatic breakthrough on Wednesday and said he was “hopeful” that the
US was “serious” about refraining from a strike on his country’s ally.
am hopeful that the United States’ new attitude to Syria is serious and not a
game with the media,” Khamenei said in a public address. “For weeks they have
threatened war against the people of this region for the benefit of the
The US said it has been in contact with the Iranians
throughout the crisis.
“We have conveyed our views regarding Syria and
the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons to the Iranian leadership through the
Swiss, our protecting power in Tehran,” National Security Council spokeswoman
Bernadette Meehan told The Jerusalem Post.
“This is a channel we have
available to us to convey our views on a range of regional security matters.”
Psaki told reporters that the administration is “working towards a binding
Security Council resolution,” while acknowledging that Russia may obstruct that
path. Russia and China have both opposed even symbolic resolutions in the
Security Council over the past two years condemning the violence in
France has drafted a resolution that would cite Chapter VII of the
UN Charter, which allows the international community to use military power to
enforce its provisions.
After two days of frantic back and forth, sudden
declarations of cooperation, and emergency meetings that were subsequently
canceled, the UN seems to have quieted down. However, Farhan Haq, spokesman for
the secretary-general, assured reporters that “things are still moving very
quickly” and that “the UN still has a strong role to play.”
adamant that no timeline could be given for when the results of the UN
investigative team’s laboratory tests on the samples taken from sites in Syria
could be released, nor did he comment on what the UN would do in the event it
was determined that a non-state actor, and not the Syrian government,
perpetrated the alleged chemical weapons attacks.
Kimoon “welcomes President Obama’s decision to take time to further explore this
diplomatic opportunity to achieve this crucially important objective,” Haq
He further said he hoped Russian and US meetings later this week
between Lavrov and Kerry would be “productive.”
Haq would not comment on
whether the UN-Arab League’s joint special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi,
would participate in the meetings between Kerry and Lavrov, or whether he would
meet separately with the two diplomats. Haq confirmed that Brahimi would travel
to Geneva later this week and that Brahimi and his team “are in regular contact
with the US and Russian governments.”
Also on Wednesday, the UN Office of
the High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report detailing the findings
of an independent commission into several massacres and other war crimes that
have occurred since the beginning of the Syria crisis in 2011.
report, which covers the period of fighting between May 15, 2013, and July 15,
2013, confirms one civilian massacre perpetrated by rebel groups, and at least
seven by the Syrian government. Between 150 and 250 people were killed in Bania
and Ras al-Nabaa, two coastal towns known to be sympathetic to the rebels. The
report confirmed the reported mass killing of 450 people by Syrian government
forces and Hezbollah fighters during a battle for the town of Qusair in western
The one mass killing attributed to rebel groups occurred in June
in the town of Hatla in the eastern province of Deir al-Zor, during which 40
people were killed.