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Russia and U.S. agree on how Syria should eliminate chemical arms

Tuesday, October 8th, 2013

John Kerry (L) and Sergei Lavrov came to an agreement on Syria’s chemical weapons deal in September. (AFP)

Al Arabiya

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Russia and the United States have reached a decision on how to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapon arsenal, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday after meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, reported Reuters.

“We have a common understanding of what needs to be done and how. I am very glad that President Obama is occupying this position [on chemical arms],” Putin told reporters at the end of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation trade summit on the Indonesian island of Bali.

International experts involved with verifying and eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons arrived in Syria earlier this month.

Russia who is a long-time ally of Syria, has offered to assist with the process.

In speculation about ridding Syria of its chemical weapons stash, Putin told Reuters that he believed the experts would be able to accomplish their goal within a year.

The OPCW and the U.N. have had to quickly gather a team of chemical weapons experts after a Security Council resolution endorsed a Russian-U.S. disarmament plan on September 27. The plan aims to destroy Syria’s huge chemical weapons arsenal estimated at 1,000 tons, by mid-2014.

The plan was launched after a chemical weapons attack near Damascus on August 21, in which hundreds – Washington claims around 1,400 – people died.

(With Reuters)

U.S. and Russia press for Syria peace conference in November

Monday, October 7th, 2013

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their press conference on the sidelines of the APEC Summit in Nusa Dua. (AFP)

Monday, 7 October 2013

Al Arabiya

The United States and Russia have urged the United Nations to set a date for a Syria peace conference in the second week of November, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday.

“We will urge a date to be set as soon as possible,” Kerry told reporters at a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Reuters reported.

Syria’s peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on Sunday urged all parties of the Syrian conflict to engage in peace talks “without pre-conditions,” adding that he hoped negotiations could take place in Geneva by mid-November.

During an interview with French-language television channel TV5 Monde, Brahimi expressed doubts over holding the Geneva II talks, saying: “There is no certainty,” according to Agence France-Presse.

World powers are pressing Syria’s regime and opposition to take part in the long-sought peace talks, which are aimed at launching a political transition to end the country’s civil war.

The proposed peace conference named “Geneva II” would be to decide how to implement a declaration agreed by the major powers in the Swiss city in June 2012 that there has to be a transitional government in Syria.

At least all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council which include Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States are expected to be involved in the talks and Brahimi said other key countries could take part.

During the joint press conference with Russia, Kerry also commented on the dismantling of Syria’s chemical arsenal saying it was a “good beginning” giving an unusual praise to Damascus for complying with the U.N. resolution to destroy its chemical weapons.

“I am not going to vouch today for what happens months down the road but it is a good beginning, and we should welcome a good beginning,” he was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Experts destroyed missile warheads, bombs and chemical mixing equipment on Sunday on the first day of the campaign to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, according to the United Nations.

The Security Council passed a resolution on September 27 backing a U.S.-Russia plan submitted to the OPCW to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons after a sarin gas attack in August killed hundreds.

Under the plan, Syria’s chemical weapons mixing and production facilities must be destroyed by November 1 and the regime’s stockpile be dismantled by mid-2014 .

(With Reuters, AFP)

Kremlin: Obama, Putin may discuss Syria in Bali

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Vladimir Putin welcomes Barack Obama at the start of the G20 summit in Saint Petersburg last month. (AFP)

Thursday, 3 October 2013

AFP, Moscow

U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian leader Vladimir Putin may discuss Syria on the sidelines of a regional summit in Bali next week, a top Kremlin official said Thursday.

Although Obama is yet to confirm his attendance at the October 7 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting because of a budget crisis back home, Putin’s foreign policy adviser said both Moscow and Washington were getting ready for the talks.

“The two sides are currently working on organizing such a meeting, and we think that the meeting will take place,” Russian news agencies quoted Yury Ushakov as saying.

“It was a (Russian) proposal that was immediately picked up by the American side.”

Putin and Obama last personally discussed the crisis on the sidelines of a September 5-6 economic summit in Saint Petersburg, and Ushakov said it would be “logical” if the subject came up again in Bali.

The two presidents “had a very dynamic and positive meeting in Saint Petersburg,” said Ushakov.

“It would be logical, considering the work being done on Syria, to meet again in Bali. We are in favor.”

Russia and the United States struck a deal last month to disarm the Syrian regime of its chemical weapons following an August 21 nerve agent attack near Damascus that Washington believes claimed more than 1,400 lives.

The disarmament plan was originally hatched as part of Russia’s efforts to shield Syrian President al-Bashar Assad’s regime from US-led military strikes that Obama threatened after the attack.

Russia argues that rockets filled with the nerve agent were probably fired by Syrian rebels who were trying to draw Western and Arab governments to their side of the conflict, which a British-based observers group said has killed more than 115,000 people.

World powers have also tentatively agreed to schedule the first direct negotiations between Assad’s regime and the rebels in Geneva in mid-November.

The so-called Geneva 2 talks follow a failed round of negotiations between world powers over the crisis in the same city in June 2012.

Russian embassy in Libya evacuated following attack

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

A view of the Russian embassy, a day after an attack, in Tripoli October 3, 2013. (Reuters)

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Al Arabiya

Russia has evacuated its entire embassy staff and their families from Libya to Tunisia on Thursday following an attack on its mission in Tripoli late Wednesday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the decision has been taken after Libya’s foreign minister said his authorities will not be able to guarantee the staff’s safety after Wednesday’s attack, Reuters agency reported.

He added that the embassy’s staff will be flown to Russia on Friday.

Dozens of angry protesters tried to storm the Russian embassy in Tripoli on Wednesday after reports that a Russian woman had killed a Libyan army officer, witnesses said.

One of the attackers was killed by the gunfire, and four more were wounded, Libyan officials told the Associated Press.

The attackers took down the Russian flag that was hanging from the balcony of one of the buildings, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The attack comes two days after conflicting reports emerged about the circumstances of the murder of an army officer in the Souk Juma district of Tripoli, according to AFP.

Some sources said a Russian woman had killed the officer for his role in the 2011 revolt against former leader Muammar Qaddafi’s regime.

Others said the woman was the wife of the slain man and that the motive for the killing was a marital dispute.

(With agencies)

Russia doubts mid-November date for Syria peace talks

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Lavrov has called into question the thoroughness of a U.N. chemical weapons mission. (Reuters)

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Reuters, Moscow

Russia expressed doubt on Tuesday that Western nations can persuade Syrian opposition representatives to take part in an international peace conference in time for it to take place in mid-November.

The doubts of Damascus’s most important ally followed remarks in which the international envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said the target date of mid-November was “not 100 percent certain” and cited disunity among rebel forces.

“Until recently we hoped our Western partners, who undertook to bring the opposition to the conference, could do it quite quickly, but they were unable to do it quickly, and I don’t know whether they will be able to do so by mid-November,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

A pledge by the Syrian government to abandon chemical arms has increased prospects for the peace conference, proposed by Russia and the United States in May, to go ahead.

U.N. Security Council powers hope it can be held in mid-November. Lavrov said it must be organised soon since “radicals and jihadists are strengthening their positions” in Syria.

“The task is to not lose any more time, and to bring to the negotiating table with the government those opposition groups that … think not about creating a caliphate in Syria or just seizing power and using it at their will, but about the fate of their country,” Lavrov said after meeting Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, secretary general of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Lavrov also called into question the thoroughness of a U.N. chemical weapons mission after suggesting that it had not examined a site outside of Aleppo where Russia and the Syrian government say rebel forces likely used chemical weapons.

“The commission recently returned (to Syria) and already announced that it finished its work and is returning to New York,” said Lavrov.

“As far as I understand, they examined several more places where there are claims chemical weapons were used near Damascus. And as before, the commission did not travel to the outskirts of Aleppo, where a serious incident of the use of chemical weapons occurred on March 19.”

Syrian rebels blame Assad’s government for that attack.

Russian experts visited the location earlier this year and took samples of material from the site that were later analysed at a Russian laboratory certified by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Russia’s U.N. envoy said previously.

The site was one of the places covered in the U.N. committee’s mandate. “And so we want to understand whether the mission’s report will be complete or incomplete,” Lavrov said, “considering that this mission was not able to visit all the locations named in its initial mandate.”

Russia-U.S. talks on Syria chemical deal ‘not going smoothly’

Tuesday, September 24th, 2013

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hold a news conference at a hotel in Geneva September 12, 2013. (AFP)

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Al Arabiya

Talks between Russia and the United States on the conflict in Syria are not going very smoothly, a secior Russian diplomat said on Tuesday

“Unfortunately it’s necessary to note that in contacts with the Americans, things are not going so smoothly…they are not quite going in the direction they should,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in parliament.

Ryabkov also expressed concern that a chemical weapons deal may have only delayed U.S. military action.

The deal stipulates that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hand over his chemical weapons arsenal to international control by the middle of next year.

He said U.S. officials “always mention that plans to punish Damascus remain in force. We draw certain conclusions from that and assume that the threat of aggression in violation of international law is so far only delayed, not dismissed fully.”

On the topic of a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria, Ryabkov said it could mention Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter.

Chapter VII allows force or tough sanctions, but only as a measure that could be invoked if an accord on chemical weapons is violated.

“Chapter VII can be mentioned only as an element of the measures against violators… if there is a refusal to cooperate, carry out obligations or if someone, it does not matter who, uses chemical weapons.”

The invocation of Chapter VII in a U.N. resolution has been a point of controversy between the United States and Russia ever since the two Cold War foes forged the landmark agreement in Geneva this month to rid Syria of its chemical weapons, Agence France-Presse reports.

Ryabkov expressed satisfaction that U.N. chemical weapons experts would be returning to Damascus “tomorrow, September 25” to investigate a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus in August, the Interfax news agency said, quoting comments in parliament.

(With AFP and Reuters)

Assad’s allies determined to deter U.S. strike

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

President Vladimir Putin meets with Iran’s Hassan Rowhani in the Kremlin on September 16,2013. (File photo: Reuters)

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Al Arabiya

Iranian President Hassan Rowhani said on Sunday that the West will regret any military attack on Syria and advised resorting to dialogue to end the 30-month crisis.

Assad’s other key alley, Russia, renewed its refusal of any U.N. resolution against the Syrian regime.

The two countries remain persistent to protect Syrian President Bashar al-Assads rule despite international pressures to force Assad and his proponents to submit to Western decisions.

Rowhani spoke out at a military parade in Tehran and addressed Western governments who have called for military strikes on Syria.

Do not seek a new war in the region because you will regret it,” he said. War cannot be extinguished by war. It must be extinguished by politics and dialogue.

Rowhani made the comments right before his flight to New York where he is scheduled to attend the U.N. General Assembly to discuss the Syrias deadly two years and a half conflict. He is also due to discuss the conflict with French president Francois Hollande on the sidelines of the annual meeting.

The Iranian president also advised Syrian rebels and opposition members to “sit at the table of negotiations with the Assad regime representative to find the right solution for all. The opposition Syrian National Council had refused Iran mediating efforts earlier.

In the meantimeSergei LavrovRussias foreign ministeranother key ally of Assadaccused the United States of attempting to blackmail Russia to support a U.N. resolution against Syria.

Our American partners are beginning to blackmail us: if Russia won’t support a resolution under Chapter 7 in the U.N. Security Council, then we will stop the work in the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” Russian agencies reported Lavrov saying in a Channel One interview.

Russia is unhappy with the drafts references to possible punitive measures against Syria under Article 7 of the U.N. charter, which talks about U.N. authorization for sanctions and military force.

Russia and the United States brokered the deal to put Syrian President Bashar al-Assads chemical arms stockpiles under international control to avoid possible U.S. military strikes that Washington said would be intended to punish Assad for a poison gas attack last month.

Under the U.S.-Russian deal, Assad must account for his chemical weapon stockpiles within a week and see them destroyed by the middle of next year.

(With AFP and Reuters)

Russia ready to send military observers to Syria

Sunday, September 22nd, 2013

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Sunday Russia will send military observers to Syria. (File photo: Reuters)

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Al Arabiya

Russia says it is ready to send military observers to Syria, as a security measure for efforts to eliminate its chemical weapons, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

Lavrov also added that his country is not considering sending a full military contingent to Syria.

Preventing the theft of weapons and ensuring security are major challenges for the U.S.-Russian deal stipulating the removal of Syria’s chemical weapons.

In an interview broadcast Sunday on Russian state TV’s Channel One, Lavrov said Russia proposed that there be an international presence on the perimeter of all areas where chemical weapons experts will work in Syria, The Associated Press reported.

“We are ready to share our servicemen and military police to participate in these forces,” but “it seems to me that military observers will be sufficient,” he was quoted as saying.

Russia and the U.S. have cooperated on the chemical weapons plan, however, they espouse differences on several aspects of the Syrian crisis.

The United States, along with France, are pushing for a U.N Security Council resolution that would authorize the use of force if Syria fails to comply with the chemical weapons agreement. However, Russia opposes invoking the U.N. Charter’s Chapter 7, which would allow force.

Lavrov criticized what he called “impudent” attempts by the West to include that chapter in the resolution, according to The Associated Press.

The Russian minister said the West is unable to admit that their previous military interventions, such as in Iraq and Libya, led to severe problems.

“They are primarily interested in the evidence of their own superiority . And is not the task that drives us – to solve the problem of chemical weapons in Syria,” he said.

On Sunday, a mortar round hit the Russian embassy in Damascus, injuring three workers.

Opposition forces stationed on the outskirts of the capital regularly fire rockets and mortar rounds into Damascus, including the area around the embassy in the center of the city, reported The Associated Press.

However, this attack marks the first time that they have hit the embassy compound itself, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, in comments carried by The Associated Press.

(With the Associated Press)

Russia may change Syria position if Assad ‘cheats’

Saturday, September 21st, 2013

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem (R) and and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov (L) walk to a press conference on September 9, 2013 follwing a meeting in Moscow. (AFP)

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Al Arabiya

Russia may change its position towards Syria if it sees any “cheating” from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, a senior Kremlin official said on Saturday.

“I am speaking theoretically and hypothetically, but if we become convinced that Assad is cheating, we can change our position,” the Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies, according to Agence France-Presse.

He was speaking at a conference in Stockholm organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

Ivanov did not clarify his remarks but repeated Russia’s objection to a military intervention in the country.

On Saturday, Syria completed the handover of an inventory of its chemical arsenal by a deadline laid out in a U.S.-Russian disarmament plan, the world’s chemical weapons watchdog said.

The “OPCW has confirmed that it has received the expected disclosure from the Syrian government regarding its chemical weapons program,” the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in an email received by AFP.

The U.S.-Russian plan to dismantle Assad’s chemical stockpile has halted American President Barack Obama’s call for military action in response to last month’s chemical attack in Damascus.

Under the plan, Assad’s regime had until Saturday to supply details of its arsenal.

(With AFP)


Moscow pulls away from Kerry-Lavrov deal on Syrian chemical disarmament. Assad gets to keep his WMD

Friday, September 20th, 2013

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu behind Putin's shoulder

Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu behind Putin’s shoulder

DEBKAfile Special Report September 20, 2013, 9:20 AM (IDT)

Russian leaders finally picked apart the Kerry-Lavrov understanding for Syria’s chemical disarmament – less than a week after it was unveiled in Geneva last Saturday. Thursday, Sept. 19, they slapped down a string of  coordinated obstructions. One knockout blow came from President Vladimir Putin, who commented dryly that he could not be 100 percent certain that the plan for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons would succeed. “But everything we have seen so far in recent days gives us confidence that this will happen. I hope so,” he said.

To dispel that hope, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu followed up with a denial of any plans to destroy the Syrian chemical stocks on Russian soil.
Then, in an interview to Fox News, Syrian President Bashar Assad, in sync with Moscow, asked mockingly: “It [the destruction of poison chemicals] is very detrimental to the environment. If the American administration is ready to pay this money and take the responsibility of bringing toxic materials to the United States, why don’t they do it?”

Since Russia and the US are the only countries with the industrial-scale capacity to destroy chemical munitions, and their import is banned under US law, Assad’s chemical arsenal is safe.

In fact, Germany alone has offered to send a small number of chemical experts to Syria, No one else is ready to oversee the complicated dismantling and removal of an estimated 10,000 tonnes of dangerously poisonous materials, pay for the operation or accept the materials on its soil.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, seeing his understanding with Sergey Lavrov slipping away, made a desperate attempt to save it. He called a news conference at the State Department Thursday to declare that it was essential the deal be enforced with a binding resolution and that the UN Security Council act on it next week, when the UN General Assembly holds its annual meeting in New York.

Kerry did not indicate how the US administration would react if the deal fell through or whether the US military option would be revived.

But it was already clear that his deal with Lavrov was going nowhere, even to the few Obama sympathizers who had hailed the president for finally managing to get Moscow on board for a solution of the Syrian war and the removal of Assad’s chemical arsenal.

The Syrian ruler calmly told Fox meanwhile that his government was willing to get rid of its chemical weapons but it would be a very complicated operation that would take about a year or more and cost around $1 billion.

After analyzing his comments, Western intelligence experts told DEBKAfile they had reached two conclusions:

1.  That Assad drew a distinction between his operational chemical arsenal and the stockpiles of those weapons. He is apparently willing to let the first category go, but determined to keep the stocks.

2.   His manner was confident verging on cocky, showing he felt certain that he would not be deprived of his chemical capabilities for coming out on top of the Syrian civil war.

He had no qualms about denying his forces were responsible for the Aug. 21 attack on districts east of Damascus, fully backed by the perseverance of Russian officials in pinning the blame on the rebels.

As excerpts of his Fox interview were aired, Assad received Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov in Damascus at the head of a large Russian delegation of military and intelligence officers. He used the occasion to complain that he was caught in a cruel vice between al Qaeda and US pressure and expressed the hope that Moscow would be able to “draw a new map of global balance.”

As the Kerry-Lavrov deal falls apart, it turns out to have been less an agreement and more a loose compilation of limited understandings on the Syrian chemical question, which left unresolved sharp, fundamental disagreements between Washington on Moscow on how it should be handled, particularly at the UN Security Council.

None of this has stopped President Obama from selling the proposition to the American public and the world that the US-Russian accord for the disposal of Syria’s chemical weapons was a triumphant breakthrough for his administration’s diplomacy, which opened the door to an agreement for resolving the Iranian nuclear issue as well.

Oxfam: Qatar, Russia and France among countries failing Syrians

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

Young Syrian refugees from Aleppo beg with their mother (L) on the steps of a bank in a street in Beirut on September 18, 2013. (Reuters)

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Al Arabiya

Research carried out by international aid agency Oxfam reveals that many donor countries are failing to provide their share of the urgently needed funding for the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Oxfam’s latest analysis shows France, Qatar, Russia are all giving less than half of their fair share; whereas countries like Denmark, Norway and Saudi Arabia are exceeding their fair share.

The research, released in advance of next week’s U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York, calculates the amount of aid that should be given according to a country’s Gross National Income (GNI) and its overall wealth.

While the need for a political solution to the crisis is considered urgent, Oxfam says donors must also prioritize funding the U.N.’s $5 billion appeals. Qatar and Russia have both committed just three per cent of what would be considered their fair share for the humanitarian effort, while France is struggling to reach half of its fair share, according to Oxfam.

In contrast, the UK has given 154 per cent of its fair share, according to Oxfam, and Kuwait tops the league table with 461 per cent.

In a statement released by Oxfam, Colette Fearon, Head of the Syria program, said: “Too many donor countries are not delivering the level of funds that is expected of them. While economic times are tough, we are facing the largest man-made humanitarian disaster in two decades and we have to seriously address it. The scale of this crisis is unprecedented and some countries must start to show their concerns to the crisis in Syria by putting their hands in their pockets.

“Countries such as France and Russia are failing to provide the humanitarian support that is desperately needed. Donors must make real commitments at next week’s meeting on Syria and ensure that the money is delivered as soon as possible. This is not the time for pledges. The situation demands committed funds in order to save lives.”

A third of all countries who are members of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic and Development (OECD), whose members account for some of the richest countries in the world, have given less than half of what would be expected, given the size of their economies., according to the report.

Japan, for example, has contributed just 17 per cent of its fair share and South Korea just two per cent.

The United States is currently gives 63 per cent of its fair share.

Several countries have given generously. Those who have exceeded their fair share include Denmark (230 per cent), Norway (134 per cent) and Saudi Arabia (187 per cent).

The aid agency welcomed new pledges of funding at the recent G20 meeting, but says funds need to be released as soon as possible to provide desperately needed aid.

Fearon said: “When funding is so tight every aid pound counts. We’re seeing people go without food, shelter and water on a daily basis. By knowing who is providing what assistance and where, we can help as many people as possible.”

Funding gaps are already affecting the ability of organizations to respond to humanitarian needs and forcing them to make difficult decisions about how to use limited aid money, according to the report.

Oxfam is also calling on all donor contributions to be registered with the international Financial Tracking System, to maximize aid efficiency and accountability.

The John Batchelor Show

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

The John Batchelor Show

 Reza Kahlili, author, A Time to Betray,  in re:  Iran and US chess: diplomatic strategies over Syria.

September 16, 2013

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