Friday, September 13, 2013

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Officials: U.S. won’t seek U.N. approval for strike if Syria reneges on chemical-arms pact

By Anne Gearan, Colum Lynch and Karen DeYoung, Friday, September 13, 5:48 PM E-mail the writers
GENEVA — The Obama administration will not press for U.N. authorization to use force against Syria if it reneges on any agreement to give up its chemical weapons, senior administration officials said Friday.

The Russians have made clear in talks here between Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State John F. Kerry that the negotiations cannot proceed under the threat of a U.N. resolution authorizing a military strike. Russia also wants assurances that a resolution will not refer Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to the International Criminal Court for possible war-crimes prosecution.

Many members who voted for tough stance on Syria now oppose military action

105 current members of Congress voted in favor of the Syria Accountability Act but now oppose or are leaning against authorizing military force.

Kerry said U.S. forces remain poised to strike if a credible agreement isn’t rapidly reached and implemented.

President Obama has said that the unilateral U.S. use of force against Syria for a chemical attack last month remains on the table. But consideration of that action, already under challenge by a skeptical Congress, has been put on hold pending the outcome of the Geneva talks.

The discussions here began this week following a Russian proposal Monday, quickly agreed to by Assad, to place Syria’s chemical arsenal under international control and eventually destroy it.

Kerry and Lavrov, negotiating behind closed doors with teams of disarmament experts, have said little about the talks that began Thursday. But administration officials in Washington provided some details on the condition that they not be identified or quoted directly.

The officials insisted that any agreement must be verifiable and include consequences for non-compliance. Short of a threatened use of force, it is not clear what those consequences would be.

The question of U.N. authorization for using force in Syria came up less than 24 hours after the Russians first made their proposal. France quickly drafted a resolution that threatened to consider “further necessary measures” — code words for military force — if Syria makes a deal and then breaks it. The draft, negotiated with the United States and Britain, was met with public statements from Lavrov and Russian President Vladi­mir Putin that they would not negotiate under threat.

Washington and London have now backed off the use-of-force provision, and a revised French draft being circulated at the U.N. Security Council has weakened it. Instead, the draft calls for continuous review of “Syria’s compliance . . . and, if Syria does not comply fully, to impose further measures” that are unspecified.

The draft still includes a provision to refer Syrian authorities to the International Criminal Court, but that provision could also be removed in subsequent reworkings as the Geneva negotiations continue.

The senior officials said they expected a U.N. resolution in some form to pass within weeks of a Geneva agreement.

One possible course of action, they said, is the internationally verified transfer of Syria’s chemical stockpiles to Russia, where they eventually would be destroyed.

The Kerry-Lavrov discussions hit snags Friday over ways to ensure all chemical stockpiles are identified, an official familiar with the talks said, but a second official said the two sides were “coming closer to agreement.”

No, the U.S. isn’t ruling out using force against Syria



President Obama met with the Amir of Kuwait Friday, focusing talks on Syria. They also discussed Israeli-Palestinian …
The White House called a small group of reporters for behind-the-scenes briefing on Friday and let it be known that the United States doesn’t expect a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria to include the explicit threat of force to compel Bashar Assad’s cooperation.
In effect, senior administration officials let it be known that President Barack Obama was OK with giving up something that was never really on the table to begin with, according to news reports.
Russia, which has the power to veto any Security Council resolution, has been saying for days that Obama must take back his threat to go to war — only then will Assad agree to put his chemical weapons under international control.
It’s not like Moscow was going to turn around and green light the threat of force in a U.N. resolution.
At the same time, Obama has made it clear that the threat of unilateral American military action isn’t going away. And a senior administration official told Yahoo News that’s not up for negotiation with the Russians.
So how would a resolution be enforced? The measure could include a threat of sanctions. It could also include a trigger referring the matter back to the Security Council.
The U.S. official told Yahoo News that early signs of Russo-American cooperation are solid — chemical weapons experts from both sides have met, for instance — but that Obama is looking carefully at progress on drafting the resolution for any signs that President Vladimir Putin is double-dealing.
Russia may be treading carefully on the language of the Syria proposal in part because Moscow feels burned by the U.N. Security Council resolution on Libya.
The measure won approval without support from Russia and China, which abstained. Neither country is particularly keen to set a precedent for international involvement to punish a central government taking military action against an armed insurrection.
In that conflict, NATO-led forces ended up serving as the de facto air force for rebel forces that ultimately toppled Moammar Gadhafi.
But the resolution did not explicitly envision that role. Instead, it called for “all necessary measures … to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory.”
And it also green-lighted “all necessary measures to enforce compliance” with a no-fly zone over Libya.
Moscow is Assad’s patron and stands to lose influence in the Middle East if he meets the same fate as Gadhafi. 

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