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Posts tagged ‘Assad’

Vatican: Syria’s Assad Sends Private Message to Pope Francis.

VATICAN CITY — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has sent Pope Francis a private message, the Vatican said Saturday, without disclosing its contents.

It was the first known time Assad has sent a direct message to the pontiff since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011. Pope Francis has made numerous appeals for an end to the conflict, the latest on Christmas Day.

Vatican sources said the message likely included the Syrian government‘s position ahead of peace talks due to start on Jan. 22 under U.N. auspices in Geneva.

The Vatican, which has permanent observer status at the United Nations, also has a representative to U.N. organisations in Geneva.

The Vatican said a delegation headed by Joseph Sweid, a Syrian minister of state, held talks in the Vatican with the pope’s secretary of state, Archbishop Pietro Parolin and his foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti.

“The delegation brought a message from President Assad for the Holy Father and illustrated the position of the Syrian government,” a statement said.

Syria’s civil war between forces loyal to Assad and mostly Sunni Muslim rebels fighting to topple him has killed more than 100,000 people since March 2011.

The Vatican is also keen to have information on the fate of Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, a Jesuit priest who supported the rebels and disappeared in July in eastern Syria.

Francis has taken a personal interest in the Syrian conflict.

In September he led a worldwide day of prayer for peace in the country and sent a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was hosting the G20 summit, telling world powers that any military solution in Syria would be a “futile pursuit”.

Putin was opposed to U.S. President Barack Obama‘s plan to use air strikes to punish Assad for a chemical weapons attack which the West blamed on the Syrian government.

Assad’s government denied it was responsible and the air strikes never took place following Syria’s agreement to dismantle it chemical weapons.


© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

Former CIA Chief Hayden: Assad Win May Be Syria’s Best Option.

Image: Former CIA Chief Hayden: Assad Win May Be Syria's Best Option

WASHINGTON — The sectarian bloodbath in Syria is such a threat to regional security that a victory for Bashar Assad‘s regime could be the best outcome, former CIA chiefMichael Hayden said Thursday.

Washington condemned Assad’s conduct of the conflict, threatened air strikes after he was accused of targeting civilians with chemical weapons and has demanded he step down.

The United States is also supplying millions of dollars in “non-lethal” aid to some of the rebel groups fighting Assad’s rule.

But Hayden, the retired U.S. Air Force general who until 2009 was head of the CIA, said a rebel win was not one of the three possible outcomes he foresees for the conflict.

“Option three is Assad wins,” Hayden told the annual Jamestown Foundation conference of terror experts. “And I must tell you at the moment, as ugly as it sounds, I’m kind of trending toward option three as the best out of three very, very ugly possible outcomes,” he said.

The first possible outcome he cited was for ongoing conflict between ever more extreme Sunni and Shiite factions.

The rebel groups are dominated by Sunni Muslims, while Assad is generally backed by Syria’s Alawite, Shiite, and Christian minorities.

And the second outcome, which Hayden deemed the most likely, was the “dissolution of Syria” and the end of a single state within the borders defined by a 1916 treaty between the French and British empires.

“It means the end of the Sykes-Picot [Agreement], it sets in motion the dissolution of all the artificial states created after World War I,” he said.

The British diplomat Mark Sykes and a French counterpart Francois Georges Picot divided the Middle East into zones of influence that later served as the frontiers of independent Arab states.

A breakdown in the century-old settlement could spread chaos in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, Hayden warned.

“I greatly fear the dissolution of the state. A de facto dissolution of Sykes-Picot,” Hayden said. “And now we have a new ungoverned space, at the crossroads of the civilization.

“The dominant story going on in Syria is a Sunni fundamentalist takeover of a significant part of the Middle East geography, the explosion of the Syrian state and of the Levant as we know it,” he said.

Fighting erupted in Syria in early 2011, when Assad launched a crackdown on pro-democracy protests and has since evolved into a full-blown civil war that has claimed an estimated 126,000 lives.

Assad, backed by Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, is locked in combat with a diverse group of Sunni rebel factions which are increasingly dominated by hardline jihadist groups.

© AFP 2013


Islamist Fighters Move Nuns From Captured Christian Village in Syria.

Syrian nuns
Nuns attend a mass prayer at the Orthodox Patriarchate in Damascus, Dec. 10, 2012. (Reuters/Khaled al-Hariri )

Islamist fighters who captured a Christian village north of Damascus have moved some nuns to a nearby town but it was not clear if they had been kidnapped or evacuated for their safety, the Vatican’s ambassador to Syria said on Tuesday.

The militants took the ancient quarter of Maaloula on Monday after heavy fighting with President Bashar al-Assad‘s forces, activists said. Syrian state media said they were holding the nuns captive in the Greek Orthodox monastery of Mar Thecla.

Vatican envoy Mario Zenari said the 12 nuns had been taken from Maaloula to Yabroud, about 20 km (13 miles) to the north.

Zenari said the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate had told him armed men had entered the monastery on Monday afternoon.

“They forced the sisters to evacuate and to follow them towards Yabroud. At this moment we cannot say if this is a kidnapping or an evacuation,” he told Reuters by telephone from Damascus. “I heard now there is a very fierce conflict going on in Maaloula.”

The fighting, which pits al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front fighters and other rebels against Assad’s forces, is part of a wider struggle for control of the Damascus-Homs highway in central Syria.

An official at the Greek Patriarchate confirmed that he believed the nuns were taken to Yabroud, but gave no details.

Syrian state television said Christians had held a service in Damascus on Monday to protest against the capture of the nuns and the kidnapping of two bishops near Aleppo in April.

Pro-rebel activists said the nuns were safe and that the real threat to them came from what they described as random Syrian army bombardment of Maaloula.

The village was the scene of heavy fighting in September, when it changed hands four times in a series of attacks and counter-assaults by rebels and government forces.

Zenari said the nuns were among the last residents left in Maaloula after most fled south for relative safety in Damascus.

The army, backed by pro-Assad militias, has been trying to secure towns on the road from Damascus to the city of Homs and Assad’s Alawite heartland overlooking the Mediterranean.

Control of the road would help secure Assad’s grip over central Syria, and would also enable safe passage for hundreds of tonnes of chemical agents which are due to be shipped out of the country by the end of the year for destruction.

Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Alistair Lyon

© 2013 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.


Syria Imbroglio: Applicability Of International Law Rules And Practice By Dr. Theophilus Olusegun Obayemi, I.

I.    Introduction

We re-examine the United States-led intervention in Syria. First, our thesis is that within the context of the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”)’s decision in Military and Paramilitary Activities in and against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America), Jurisdiction and Admissibility, 1984 ICJ REP. 392 June 27, 1986.—there has actually been “interventions” by the United States and its allies inside the Syrian borders.

Second, we argue that the United Nations General Assembly (“UNGA”) ought to have requested the ICJ to issue an Advisory Opinion on the legality and/or lawfulness of the United States and French-led intervention in Syria.

Third, humanitarian intervention towards preventing genocide and serious violations of humanitarian rights is now a jus cogens, which does not need a United Nations Security Council’s Resolution.

In a nutshell, the UNGA should have taken over the jurisdiction of the Syrian case over and above the need for a Chapter VII Security Council Resolution.

In September 2013, many international law observers had expected a full-blown attack by the United States armed forces against the Assad Syrian government. In an attempt to avoid being dragged into an unpopular military action as occurred in Vietnam and Iraq, President Barrack Obama sought ratification and support from the Congress. In the midst, Vladmir Putin, Russian Head of State offered to negotiate the peaceful surrender of chemical weapons by Assad. Salutory as the efforts to avert military confrontation may seem, international law practitioners are concerned that the rules of international law were not followed and were neither referenced in solving the impasse.

II.    Origin of the Syrian Revolution

The Arab Spring consumed the entire Arab world in 2011. A wave of civil wars, revolutionary demonstrations, protests and riots dubbed the “Arab Spring” started in December 2010 and spread across North Africa and into the Middle East in 2011. As of October 2013, rulers have been forced from power in Tunisia, Egypt (twice), Libya, and Yemen. In addition, civil uprisings have erupted in Bahrain and Syria. Further, major protests broke out in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, and Sudan. We also witnessed minor protests in Mauritania, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Djibouti, Western Sahara, and the Palestinian Authority.

Of particular importance is that in March 2011, Pro-democracy protests in Syria started in earnest when a group of 200 mostly young protesters gathered in the Syrian capital Damascus to demand reforms and the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a ‘Day of Rage.’ A Facebook group called “The Syrian Revolution 2011 Syrian revolt against Bashar al-Assad” garnered more than 41,000 fans, while Syrian Twitter users tweeted for the world to pay attention. Video footage emerged showing the protests. Between March 2011 and September the Assad government battled rebels who gained significant inroads into the political control of the Syrian landmass. Then came the use of chemical weapons.

Syria has always had a “long-standing chemical warfare program”, which was first developed in the 1970s. A recent report from the US Congressional Research Service said Syria probably began stockpiling chemical weapons in 1972 or 1973, when it was given a small number of chemicals and delivery systems by Egypt before the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Further, Damascus started acquiring the materials and knowledge necessary to produce chemical weapons in the 1980s, with the help of the Soviet Union. Equipment and chemicals were also procured from European companies. While the exact size of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal is not known, in June 2012, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Deputy Chief of Staff Maj Gen Yair Nave described it as “the largest in the world”. In addition, according to a French intelligence assessment published in September 2013, Damascus has more than 1,000 tonnes of chemical agents and precursor chemicals, including:

Several hundreds of tonnes of sulphur mustard
Several hundreds of tonnes of sarin
Several tens of tonnes of VX

According to a report by UN chemical weapons inspectors, there is “clear and convincing evidence” that surface-to-surface rockets containing sarin were fired at suburbs to the east and west of Damascus in an attack on 21 August that killed hundreds of people. Further, according to US, British, French and Israeli officials, there is also evidence that Syrian government forces used sarin against rebels and civilians on several previous occasions. Finally, French intelligence said analysis of samples taken from the northern town of Saraqeb and the Damascus suburb of Jobar in April showed that munitions containing sarin had been deployed.

III.    What is “Intervention” Under International Law

To a layman, intervention would be equated to Operation Desert Storm under general Arnold Schwarznopf in 1991 or the 2003 Operation Iraqi Freedom. The ICJ’s decision in Nicaragua v. United States of America shows that intervention could be direct and/or indirect. Therein, the financing of rebels, aids given to insurgents, military assistance, logistics and instructors. Just as in Nicaragua in 1984, United States aided the Syrian Freedom Fighters, in recruiting, training, arming, equipping, financing, supplying and otherwise encouraging, supporting, aiding, and directing military and paramilitary actions in and against Assad.

Thus, the actual threatened direct full-scale attack against Syria was actually not the initial intervention by the United States.

IV.    Right of Humanitarian Intervention

Under contemporary rules of international law, the three paradigmatic cases justifying humanitarian intervention are genocide, slavery and widespread torture.  Thus, the notion of jus cogens in international law encompasses the notion of peremptory norms in international law. In this regard, a view has been formed that certain overriding principles of international law exist which form “a body of jus cogens.” These principles are those from which it is accepted that no State may derogate by way of treaty. As a result they are generally interpreted as restricting the freedom of States to contract while ‘voiding’ treaties whose object conflicts with norms which have been identified as peremptory.

Assuming arguendo that the Assad government used chemical weapons against its citizens, then the United States and the allieds are justified in carrying out both direct and indirect attacks against Assad’s regime.

Before the customary international right of humanitarian intervention can be exercised, there are “safeguard factors” to be observed:

• The violation of humanitarian rights is severe
• A large number of people are involved
• More than one state is involved in the use of force
• There is no gain or material self-interest on the part of the intervening states

V.    The United Nations Security Council

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations and is charged with the maintenance of international peace and security. Its powers, outlined in the United Nations Charter, include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action. Its powers are exercised through United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The only problem with the UNSC is the veto right by the permanent members. Under Article 27 of the UN Charter, Security Council decisions on all substantive matters require the affirmative votes of nine members. A negative vote, or veto, also known as the rule of “great power unanimity”, by a permanent member prevents adoption of a proposal, even if it has received the required number of affirmative votes (9). Abstention is not regarded as a veto despite the wording of the Charter. Since the Security Council’s inception, China (ROC/PRC) has used its veto 6 times; France 18 times; Russia/USSR 123 times; the United Kingdom 32 times; and the United States 89 times. The majority of Russian/Soviet vetoes were in the first ten years of the Council’s existence. Since 1984, China and France have vetoed three resolutions each; Russia/USSR four; the United Kingdom ten; and the United States 43.

During the Syrian crisis, Russia consistently showed that it would not support armed attack against Syria.

VI.    ICJ’s Advisory Opinions

Advisory Opinions were intended as a means by which UN agencies could seek the ICJ’s help in deciding complex legal issues that might fall under their respective mandates. Advisory Opinions were intended as a means by which UN agencies could seek the ICJ’s help in deciding complex legal issues that might fall under their respective mandates.

Based on the Syrian impasse, this author’s view is that the only alternative is the use of the United Nations General Assembly requesting the ICJ to issue an Advisory Opinion on the legality and/or lawfulness of the United States and French-led intervention in Syria. It has been argued that even though the Security Council is probably seized of the Syrian matter, that doesn’t prevent the General Assembly from asking the ICJ for an opinion on whether there is a general right to humanitarian intervention, or whether member states can use force in the absence of a Chapter VII Security Council Resolution.

Generally, the United nations General Assembly requests an advisory opinion. On receiving a request, the ICJ decides which States and organizations might provide useful information and gives them an opportunity to present written or oral statements. While, in principle, the ICJ’s advisory opinions are only consultative in character, they are influential and widely respected. The legal reasoning embodied in them reflects the ICJ ‘s authoritative views on important issues of international law and, in arriving at them, the ICJ follows essentially the same rules and procedures that govern its binding judgments delivered in contentious cases submitted to it by sovereign states.

VII.    Conclusion

It is clear that Assad regime will not hand over the chemical weapons in its possession. With compelling evidence of violations of anti-genocide and anti-torture laws, the United States and Syria submit the matter to the ICJ as to whether the current levels of intervention should be elevated to “direct armed strike” by US armed forces against the Syrian territory. The advantage is that an advisory opinion will produce a reasoned judgment as to the current state of the laws towards balancing demands of non-interference and prevention of humanitarian violations.

The United Nations Charter of 1945 certainly could not have envisaged the capability of nuclear and chemical attacks of 2013.

Dr. Theophilus Olusegun Obayemi, II is the author of Legal Standards Governing Pre-Emptive Strikes and Forcible Measures of Anticipatory Self-Defense under the U.N. Charter and General International Law, 12 ANNUAL SURVEY OF INTERNATIONAL & COMPARATIVE LAW, 19 (SPRING 2006)


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters

Assad Slams Western Powers on UN Draft Resolution.

Image: Assad Slams Western Powers on UN Draft Resolution


BEIJING — Syrian President Bashar Assad denounced the United States, France, and Britain for submitting a draft resolution to the U.N. Security Council to place Syrian chemical weapons under international control, saying they were fighting an “imaginary enemy.”Assad, who was interviewed by China’s state television CCTV in Damascus said he was not concerned about the draft resolution and that China and Russia would “ensure any excuse for military action against Syria will not stand.”

“I am not concerned. Since its independence, Syria has been committed to all the treaties it has signed. We will honor everything that we have agreed to do,” an article posted on the CCTV website on Monday quoted Assad as saying, “And more importantly, I want to say, by submitting the draft to the U.N. Security Council, or by urging the U.S. and Russia to agree on a deal, the U.S., France, and Britain are just trying to make themselves winners in a war against a Syria which is their imaginary enemy.”

Russia and the United States brokered the deal to put Assad’s chemical arms stockpiles under international control to avert possible U.S. military strikes that Washington said would punish Assad for a poison gas attack last month.

Washington has blamed Assad’s forces for the attack, which it said killed more than 1,400 people. Assad blamed rebels battling to overthrow him, saying it made no sense for his forces to use chemical weapons when they were gaining the upper hand and while U.N. chemical inspectors were staying in central Damascus.

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

Envoys from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China — met last Thursday for a third straight day to discuss a draft resolution Western powers hope will make the deal legally binding.

Russia, a key ally of Assad, is unhappy with the draft’s 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.

In the interview, Assad said gunmen could hinder the access of chemical weapons inspectors to sites where the weapons were stored and made.

“We know that these terrorists are obeying the orders of other countries and these countries do drive these terrorists to commit acts that could get the Syrian government blamed for hindering this agreement,” he said.

Asked whether Syria had lots of chemical weapons, Assad said: “Syria has been manufacturing chemical weapons for decades so it’s normal for there to be large quantities in the country.”

“We are a nation at war, we’ve got territories that have been occupied for more than 40 years, but in any case, the Syrian army is trained to fight using conventional weapons,” Assad added.

He said the chemical weapons were stored “under special conditions to prevent any terrorist for other destructive forces from tampering with them, that is, destructive forces that could come from other countries.”

“So there is nothing to worry about. The chemical weapons in Syria are in a safe place that is secure and under the control of the Syrian army,”  Assad said.

Separately, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi told U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that China was willing to send experts to help in the Syrian chemical weapons destruction process, and reiterated that a political solution was the only way to solve the crisis in Syria.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Saturday Syria had handed over information about its chemical weapons arsenal, meeting the first deadline of the disarmament operation.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.


Assad Submits Toxic Weapons List as UN Prepares for Debate.

BRUSSELS — Syria turned in an initial inventory of its chemical weapons Friday, in advance of U.S.- Russian talks next week on United Nations action to compel the Arab nation to surrender its toxic arsenal.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it had “received an initial disclosure from the Syrian government of its chemical weapons program.” A Sept. 14 U.S.-Russian agreement, which averted an American military strike on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, called for an itemization of Syria’s poison gas stocks by today.

Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, said yesterday that it was “a positive step” for Syria to submit the list within the period outlined in the agreement, which calls for the Arab country to turn over its chemical weapons to international control for eventual destruction.

The move came as the U.S., France and the U.K. push for the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution next week giving international force to the terms of the Geneva accord between the U.S. and Russia.

Efforts to agree on a UN resolution encountered headwinds from Russia, Assad’s strongest ally, which opposes any measure that alludes to a threat of force.

“There need to be consequences for noncompliance,” Rhodes told reporters on a conference call. “We would want to see the strongest enforcement possible.”

Russia is also resisting any attempt to assign blame to Assad’s regime for an Aug. 21 chemical attack that the U.S. says killed 1,400 people, including more than 400 children.


The Security Council is set to negotiate on a resolution next week, as world leaders travel to New York for the opening of the UN General Assembly.

“We believe there needs to be a sense of urgency,” Rhodes said. “We want to be moving as quickly as we can to get those weapons under international control and to destroy them.”

The timetable has started to slip. The executive council of the chemical weapons organization in The Hague, which would oversee Syria’s chemicals disarmament, said yesterday it has postponed a meeting on Syria that was scheduled for tomorrow, aiming for a new date in the middle of next week.

The OPCW will submit the initial document for review by its executive council, of which the U.S. is a member, State Department’s deputy spokeswoman, Marie Harf, said, declining to comment further on whether Syria’s submission met requirements of the U.S.-Russian agreement.

“Clearly, we said they needed to submit a comprehensive list of their entire stockpile and programs,” Harf said. “But we’ll have more to come, I’m sure, as we go through the list.”

Russia has had close ties with Syria since Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, took power in a coup in 1970. Russia has been a major arms provider to the regime and maintains its only military base outside the former Soviet Union at Syria’s Mediterranean port of Tartus.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Washington that he pressed for a “firm and strong” UN resolution in a “fairly long conversation” with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday.

Assad is likely to stop complying if the UN Security Council adopts a resolution that doesn’t threaten force against his regime, said Firas Abi Ali, a London-based Middle East analyst at research firm IHS.


“Then you’ll start seeing delaying tactics as part of the technical process,” he said by phone. “For now, while there is a credible threat of force being used against them, they are going to try and appear very reasonable.”

George Sabra, a member of the main Western-backed opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, said he had no faith in Assad’s pledge to implement the agreement.

“Everybody knows about the credibility of the regime and how it honors its obligations,” Sabra said in a televised interview with SkyNews Arabiya. “There will be lists going and delegations coming for months, and even for years, while the regime continues committing crimes against humanity.”

With the threat of military action receding, West Texas Intermediate crude for October delivery, which expired yesterday, fell $1.72, or 1.6 percent, percent to $104.67 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange, the lowest settlement since Aug. 21. Prices slid 3.3 percent this week, the biggest five-day drop since June.

In an interview that aired Sept. 18 on Fox News, Assad said his regime will abide by the convention banning chemical weapons and won’t impose conditions. Syria’s government is willing to discuss with international organizations the timeline for destroying its stockpiles, Assad said, adding that some experts estimate it would take a year to eliminate all of them.

In an indication of the challenge, a U.S. stockpile of munitions armed with the same type of nerve gas used in Syria last month is still stored in concrete bunkers at an Army depot in Kentucky 30 years after the U.S. government promised to destroy it.

Once a plan is in place for Syria, UN member states will need to help carry it out because the world body and the chemical weapons organization lack the resources do so on their own.

The OPCW has only about 70 inspectors to visit an estimated 45 to 50 chemical weapons sites in Syria, and countries such as the Czech Republic, Japan and Russia with expertise in disarming chemical weapons would have to provide support, said a UN diplomat who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.


Assad Demands $1 Billion From US for Chemical Weapons Removal.

Syrian strongman President Bashar Assad wants the United States to pay $1 billion to help him get rid of the chemical weapons arsenal he built up.

His demand came in the middle of an interview with former Democratic congressman Dennis Kucinich on Fox News.

Assad said removing the chemical weapons would take roughly a year.

“As I said, it needs a lot of money. It needs about $1 billion,” Assad said. “It 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?”

During the interview with the former Ohio representative, Assad vowed to provide a list of sites and to allow inspectors in.

“We didn’t say we are joining partially that agreement or that organization. We joined fully … We are committed to the full requirements of this agreement,” he said.

He also said his government would abide by an agreement to dispose of chemical weapons and hand them over to whatever nation was willing to take them.

Story continues below video.

Despite saying he would dispose of his country’s deadly chemical weapons, Assad still insisted that his forces were not responsible for the Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus that shocked the world.

He said a U.N. report that found “clear and convincing evidence” of a sarin nerve gas attack in Syria last month is “unrealistic.” He denied that his regime orchestrated the attack that killed more than 1,000 people.

Assad also said his country was not in a civil war but had been invaded by jihadists loyal to al-Qaida.

Kucinich and Fox News correspondent Greg Palkot interviewed Assad in the Syrian capital Damascus on Sept. 17. The interview aired Wednesday.

Asked by Kucinich why Syria is agreeing to get rid of its chemical weapons now when it denied even having them earlier, Assad said Syria actually introduced a proposal to make the Middle East a chemical-free and WMD-free zone in 2003, but the United States opposed it.

He called it a “blatant lie” by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry that Syria ever denied having chemical weapons.

“We never said no, we never said yes. We always say it is classified issue. We don’t have to talk about it,” Assad said.

Pressed by Kucinich on whether he now admits to having stockpiles of chemical weapons, Assad responded, “When we joined the treaty last week it means that we have, and we said that. And it’s not a secret anymore.”

He said he isn’t using the agreement as a stalling tactic to keep the United States from attacking, saying that Syria must obey the “mechanism” put forth in the agreement.

Kucinich asked if Fox News cameras could go to the sites and show the chemical weapons to the American public. Assad said that was a decision he was not authorized to make, but that they were free to ask the proper authorities about it after the interview was over.

He said that even the United States could have the weapons if it is willing to assume the risk that goes along with them and pay for their destruction. But they would have to go through the “specified organization in the United Nations.”

Assad denied that Syria agreed to get rid of its chemical weapons in response to the threat of U.S. military action. It was the Russian proposal that moved them, he said.

“We obey because we want to obey,” Assad said. “We have different incentives.”

Although he maintained there still isn’t evidence that the Syrian government was responsible for the deadly attack on Aug. 21, he did say that the proposal required Syria “not to use the arsenal again.”

Assad agreed that if the attack did happen, it would be a war crime and grave violation of international law as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said.

But, he added, the videos, showing children and other civilians shaking and gasping for breath as hundreds of them died, has not been verified yet.

“There is a lot of forgery on the Internet,” he said.

Assad disagreed that 50 percent or fewer of the rebels fighting his government are members of terrorist groups. He estimated that 80 to 90 percent were affiliated with al-Qaida or other jihadist groups.

Assad said he has never spoken to Obama, but would advise him to listen to the American public, who are largely opposed to military action.

“Follow the common sense of your people,” he advised the U.S. president.

Kucinich noted that Assad is a physician and wondered whether he gave up the Hippocratic oath to do no harm when he assumed political office.

“Sometimes [doctors] have to extract the bad member that could kill the patient,” Assad answered. Doctors deal with one patient, he said, while politicians deal with the public good.

“It’s better if you take the decision that could help everyone,” he said. “But sometimes in certain circumstances, in difficult circumstances, you cannot.”

Palkot noted how American officials had seen Assad as a reformer when he took over the presidency from his father in 2000.

“I’m still reformer,” he said, saying that Syria is more of a democracy than many of its neighbors in the Middle East. He said he accepted demands of more reforms from his people and changed the constitution. He said he also will stand for election in 2014.

Asked whether he would step down for the good of Syria, Assad said that is a decision for the people of Syria to make, not outsiders. Syrian ally Russia has never tried to interfere with his country’s affairs, he said.

“Only the American administration, their allies in Europe, and some of their puppets in the Arab world” have called for his ouster, he said.

Reuters contributed to this report.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Greg Richter

Putin: ‘Can’t Say 100 Percent’ Assad Will Give Up Chemical Weapons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he isn’t “100 percent” certain that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will fulfill his commitment to give up chemical weapons.

Putin’s comments today may indicate that Russia, Syria’s arms provider and ally, harbors doubts about Assad’s reliability, though less so than the U.S., which has demanded a quick and intrusive process to prevent the use of Syria’s chemical arsenal and to test whether the Syrian leader will give it up.

Putin said Syria has taken “practical steps” by joining the Chemical Weapons Convention barring such arms and it now faces a disarmament process under a U.S.-Russia accord reached last week in Geneva that begins with an accounting of the weapons inventory due Sept. 21.

“Will it be possible to bring everything to a conclusion?” Putin said in Valdai, Russia. “I can’t say 100 percent. But everything that we’ve seen up to now inspires confidence that this can and will be done.”

As the U.S. threatened military action, Russia proposed that Syria turn over its chemical weapons to international control and Assad said Syria would join the convention, which requires steps to declare, secure and eliminate his arsenal.

Assad said yesterday that he envisions it will take about a year to destroy his chemical weapons and related equipment. Meeting the disclosure and inspection conditions is “no problem, we can do it tomorrow,” Assad said in a Fox News Channel interview.

Blaming Rebels

While saying he is committed to surrendering those weapons, Assad gave no ground in his assertions that rebels, not his forces, were responsible for the Aug. 21 sarin gas attack near Damascus that the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people.

Assad said he has set no conditions on cooperating with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, or OPCW, the body based in The Hague that implements the treaty. Previously, he’d said that Syria’s actions depended on the U.S. and others not supplying weapons to rebel forces.

“We are committed” to the full requirements of the treaty and any delay in implementation “is not about will, it’s about techniques,” he said.

Assad faces an early test because, under the U.S.-Russia accord negotiated last week in Geneva by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, he is supposed to turn over a full inventory of his country’s chemical weapons arsenal by Sept. 21. That would then be subject to intrusive verification by the OPCW.

Complicated Process

Assad said that eliminating the arsenal is a complicated process that will be done as directed by OPCW experts. He said he’s been told it may take about a year and cost as much as $1 billion to destroy the chemical weapons without creating environmental problems.

Assad didn’t explicitly address the U.S.-Russia accord, which averted American military action in return for Syria giving up its chemical arsenal. He presented Syria’s promised actions as occurring under the requirements of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined last week after decades during which it didn’t acknowledge having chemical arms.

“Whenever we join an agreement as Syria, we always committed to those agreements,” he said.

The Fox News interview in Damascus was arranged by Dennis Kucinich, an anti-war activist who’d met with Assad on a past visit to Syria as a Democratic congressman from Ohio. Kucinich, who works as a contributor to Fox News, was joined by Fox correspondent Greg Palkot in questioning Assad.

Early Test

The U.S.-Russia accord sets an objective of completing the destruction or removal of chemical weapons and related equipment by next June 30.

While Kerry has said that Syria “must submit” a full disclosure of its chemical weapons by Sept. 21, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said yesterday that the date — one week after the accord was reached in Geneva — and others in the accord were more a “timeline” than “a hard and fast deadline.”

What counts is seeing “forward momentum, understanding that it’s complicated and that these are targets on a calendar,” she told reporters in Washington.

Russia’s army may send chemical and biological experts to Syria to assist with the operation, Kommersant reported, citing an unidentified military official.

Oil Price

With the threat of military action receding, West Texas Intermediate crude fell for the fourth time in five days. WTI crude for October delivery, which expires tomorrow, slid $1.05 to $107.02 a barrel at at 12:31 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The unedited, hour-long interview provided Assad with an extended opportunity to present his view of the civil war in his nation that has killed more than 100,000 people and uprooted about 6 million.

He described the rebels as 80 percent to 90 percent jihadists, dismissing broad public opposition that started with peaceful protests, and he said that more than 15,000 government soldiers have died in the 2 1/2 years of fighting. While saying he is open to peace talks, his view of how that might proceed differs from that of opposition leaders, who insist that he must quit as part of any deal.

While not disputing the findings of UN inspectors that the nerve agent sarin was used in an attack in the Ghouta area near Damascus, Assad said his forces weren’t responsible. The U.S., U.K., France and analysts have said the findings implicate regime forces. The UN team was barred by its mandate from placing responsibility.

Assad’s Denial

“We didn’t use any chemical weapons in Ghouta,” he said, saying that doing so would have put at risk his troops as well as tens of thousands of civilians.

Syria yesterday gave Russia what it said was evidence supporting its case that rebels were responsible. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said during a visit to Damascus yesterday that Russia is “unhappy” about the findings of the UN investigation, according to Russian state broadcaster RT.

“We think that report was distorted, it was one-sided, the basis of information upon which it is built is not sufficient, and in any case we would need to learn and know more on what happened beyond and above that incident of Aug. 21,” Ryabkov told RT.

–With assistance from Ilya Khrennikov and Henry Meyer in Moscow, Nicole Gaouette in Washington, Joshua Fellman, Moming Zhou and Peter S. Green in New York, Sangwon Yoon in United Nations, James G. Neuger in Brussels, Andrew Langley in London and Anastasia Ustinova in Chicago. Editors: Bob Drummond, Larry Liebert

To contact the reporters on this story: Terry Atlas in Washington at; Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at

© Copyright 2013 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.

Bernard-Henri Levy: Syria Deal Legitimizes Assad as a ‘Partner’.

One of the many deep problems with the Russian-American agreement to disarm Syria of chemical weapons is that it legitimizes Syrian President Bashar Assad, says acclaimed French author Bernard-Henri Levy.

“Assad has been transformed, as if by magic, from a war criminal and enemy of humanity (in the words of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon) into an unavoidable, nay, legitimate, negotiating partner — whose spirit of cooperation and responsibility I fear we will soon hear being widely praised,” Levy writes in The Wall Street Journal.

Levy also challenges the idea that a U.S. Russian agreement to place Assad’s chemical weapons under international control can be carried out.

“How, in a country at war, does one gather up and then destroy 1,000 tons of chemical weapons scattered across the entire territory?” he says, calling the deal “unverifiable” as well.

“According to the best estimates, the task would require 20 times more inspectors than the United Nations mustered in Syria last summer, and who, for the most part, remained shut up in their hotels or were trotted around by the regime.”

He also notes that the agreement is “unaffordable,” saying the United States “has invested $8 billion to $10 billion to destroy its own chemical weapons, and, 20 years later, the task is not yet finished.”

In addition, he criticizes the agreement’s mid-2014 timetable, calling it “meaningless.”

“[It] sounds like a bad joke in a country where, for 2 1/2 years now, hundreds of civilians have been killed each day by conventional arms.” Levy states.

Levy also argues that the agreement will have a negative impact on U.S. efforts to contain North Korea and Iran. The two countries, he says, “will have good reason to believe . . . that the West’s word, its warnings, the promises it makes to its allies, aren’t worth a thing.”

But he adds that the agreement, more than anything else, will likely create more horror for Syrian civilians, “who now more than ever find themselves trapped.”

“They are caught in a vise between the regime’s army — supported by Russian advisers, Hezbollah auxiliaries and Revolutionary Guards from Tehran — and the jihadists who draw strength from the West’s abdication and who increasingly are able to present themselves, despite poisonous future results not difficult to imagine, as the last hope of a people pushed to the brink,” Levy says.

© 2013 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

By Dan Weil

Diplomats Seek Syria UN Resolution as France, Russia Squabble.

UNITED NATIONS/MOSCOW — Diplomats from five key nations kicked off talks on Tuesday on a Western-drafted U.N. Security Council resolution to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons even as France and Russia clashed over Moscow’s insistence that Syrian President Bashar Assad is innocent in an Aug. 21 poison gas attack on civilians.

The negotiations in New York among the American, British, French, Russian, and Chinese diplomats focused on a draft resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal to be put before the 15-nation U.N. Security Council.

The U.S.-British-French draft is intended to support an American-Russian deal reached in Geneva last Saturday calling for Syria to account for its chemical weapons within a week and for the removal and destruction of the arsenal by mid-2014.

U.N. diplomats said it remained unclear when a vote on the resolution could take place. The current draft leaves the door open to the use of force in the event of non-compliance by Syria, though diplomats said Russia would almost certainly demand such provisions be deleted.

Meanwhile, Israel, Syria’s neighbor that has been warily watching a civil war that has killed 100,000 people since 2011, shifted from its non-committal public stance and said it wanted to see Assad toppled.

President Barack Obama, who had threatened U.S. military strikes in response to the August attack, said even with the deal to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons, ultimately there must be a political transition in Syria in which Assad gives up power.

“Keep in mind that it’s very hard to imagine that civil war dying down if, in fact, Assad is still in power,” Obama told the U.S. Spanish-language network Telemundo.

Obama said it remains his goal to “transition” Assad out of power in a way that protects religious minorities and ensures Islamist extremists are not gaining ground in Syria.

“But you know, we’re going to take this one step at a time. The first step right now is to make sure we can deal with the chemical weapons issue,” Obama said.

The meeting of diplomats from the five permanent, veto-wielding powers of the Security Council came a day after U.N. investigators confirmed the use of sarin nerve agent in the Aug. 21 attack. The United States, Britain, and France said the report proved beyond any doubt that Assad’s forces were responsible.

The U.N. report’s findings triggered sharp disagreement at a meeting in Moscow of the top diplomats from Russia and France. Russia has been Assad’s most powerful backer during the civil war, delivering arms and — with China — blocking three U.N. resolutions meant to pressure Assad.

Sitting beside French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius at a news conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the report produced no proof that Assad’s troops carried out the attack and that Russia still suspected rebel forces did it.

Fabius took the opposite view, saying the report left no doubt that Assad’s forces were to blame for the attack that the United States says killed more than 1,400 people. Washington has blamed Syrian government forces. Assad’s government blames the rebels.


“When you look at the amount of sarin gas used, the vectors, the techniques behind such an attack, as well as other aspects, it seems to leave no doubt that the regime is behind it,” Fabius said.

Lavrov acknowledged that the investigators’ report proved that chemical weapons had been used but that “there is no answer to a number of questions we have asked,” including whether the weapons were produced in a factory or home-made.

“We have very serious grounds to believe that this was a provocation,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov said the U.N. report should be examined not in isolation but along with evidence from sources such as the Internet and other media, including accounts from “nuns at a nearby convent” and a journalist who had spoken to rebels.

“We want the events of Aug. 21 to be investigated dispassionately, objectively and professionally,” he said.

Diplomats in New York said Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin questioned some of the findings in chief U.N. chemical investigator Ake Sellstrom’s report at a closed Security Council meeting on Monday. Churkin, they said, asked Sellstrom to describe the quality of the weapons that dispersed sarin.

“The rockets found on the site were professionally made and, according to Dr. Sellstrom, they bore none of the characteristics of jerry-rigged, improvised weapons,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the U.N. General Assembly.

“They had sophisticated barometric fuses to disperse the nerve agent in the air and not on impact,” she said on Tuesday. “This was a professionally executed massacre by the regime, which is known to possess one of the world’s largest undeclared stockpiles of sarin.”

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the diplomats from United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — known as the “P5” — would report back to their capitals and reconvene on Wednesday.


In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry called for a U.N. resolution with the strength to force compliance from Assad on chemical weapons.

“That will happen only with the United Nations passing a strong resolution. It will happen with the enforcement of the world, with Russia standing by us in this effort, and it will happen, finally, because Assad lives up to what he has agreed to do,” Kerry told reporters.

The current U.S.-British-French draft, diplomats said, would condemn and blame Assad for the use of chemical weapons and refer the Syrian civil war to the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes indictments.

The draft is also written so that its provisions are under Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, which covers the Security Council’s authority to enforce its decisions with measures such as sanctions or the use of force.

Diplomats said Russia would likely demand most Chapter 7 references be deleted, meaning any attempt to punish Syria for non-compliance would require a second resolution authorizing punitive measures.

Michael Oren, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, made clear his nation’s shift in views on the civil war in an interview with the Jerusalem Post.

Even Assad’s defeat by al-Qaida-aligned rebels would be preferable to Syria’s current alliance with Israel’s arch-foe Iran, Oren said.

“We always wanted Bashar Assad to go, we always preferred the bad guys who weren’t backed by Iran to the bad guys who were backed by Iran,” Oren said.

“The greatest danger to Israel is by the strategic arc that extends from Tehran, to Damascus to Beirut. And we saw the Assad regime as the keystone in that arc,” he said.

Israel and Syria are old enemies, but a stable standoff has endured between them during Assad’s rule. Israel even pursued peace talks with him in hope of divorcing Syria from Iran and Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah guerrillas in neighboring Lebanon.

Violence flared anew along Syria’s tense border with Turkey as a car bomb exploded on the Syrian side of the main Bab al-Hawa border crossing, killing at least seven people and wounding 20, the Turkish news agency Dogan said.

The car bomb exploded a day after Turkish forces shot down a Syrian helicopter that had entered Turkey’s airspace. The Syrian army accused the Turkish government, which backs the uprising against Assad, of trying to escalate tensions along the border.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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