As high-stakes talks between Russia and the United States on Syria’s chemical weapons program kicked off Thursday, Damascus began taking steps to formally give up its stockpile of deadly agents. But the positive development coincided with a sinking realization among U.S. officials that Syria’s application to the Chemical Weapons Convention offers President Bashar al-Assad a range of opportunities to delay the removal of the unconventional arms from his country.
In a joint appearance with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Secretary of State John Kerry immediately warned Assad that delays on his part would invite a U.S. military strike. "This is not a game," said Kerry. "Expectations are high. They are high for the United States, perhaps even more so for Russia, to deliver on the promise of this moment."
But a number of diplomatic obstacles immediately presented themselves. In an interview with Russian state TV. Assad said he would only give up his chemical weapons after the U.S. stops arming the rebels and threatening a military attack — a demand no one seriously believes the U.S. will acquiesce to. "When we see the United States really wants stability in our region and stops threatening, striving to attack, and also ceases arms deliveries to terrorists, then we will believe that the necessary processes can be finalised," Assad noted. Additionally, Assad said joining the convention allotted him 30 days to hand over information on its stockpiles, a time frame Kerry immediately rejected.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf acknowledged that any deal to remove Assad’s chemical weapons would be a "very complicated process and it will take time." (Experts say removing chemical weapons from Syria could take more than 10 years.) Harf said in order for the U.S. to remain at the negotiating table, "we have to keep seeing forward momentum" from the Syrians on a range of compliance issues. It’s not clear what would qualify as "forward momentum," but as the two-day talks in Geneva kick off, the United Nations has said it received documents from Syria on joining the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty.
Needless to say, not everyone is thrilled with America’s shift toward diplomacy. The Syrian opposition is warning U.S. officials that accepting Assad’s offer would amount to tacit approval of the slaughter of Syrians by conventional means only. "We fear that the international community will fall for this trap," George Sabra, president of the Syrian National Coalition, told The Cable.
In another attempt to cast further doubt on Assad’s intentions, the head of the opposition Free Syrian Army told CNN on Thursday that he has intelligence showing that the Assad regime is moving its chemical weapons outside Syrian borders. "Today, we have information that the regime began to move chemical materials and chemical weapons to Lebanon and to Iraq," Gen. Salim Idriss said. However, Israeli and Iraqi officials have pushed back against the claim, saying they have seen no evidence of such weapons transfers.
Meanwhile, as the Obama administration’s publicity campaign in support of a U.S. strike on Syria cools off, administration officials are no longer broadcasting a uniform message on the importance of military intervention. During a speech in Washington on Thursday, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency characterized the decision to intervene as "an extremely difficult choice" that risked entangling the U.S. into an "extremely complicated Middle Eastern Crisis," said Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. "A ‘damned if we do, damned if we don’t’ dilemma."
Yochi Dreazen is a Managing Editor for News at Foreign Policy. He is also writer-in-residence at the Center for a New American Security. His book about military suicide was published by Random House's Crown division in 2014.
Prior to joining Foreign Policy, Dreazen was a contributing editor at the Atlantic and the senior national security correspondent for National Journal. He began his career at the Wall Street Journal and spent 11 years at the newspaper, most recently as its military correspondent. He was born in Chicago, and later attended the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn, he edited the award-winning daily campus newspaper and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1999 with degrees in History and English. He was hired by the Wall Street Journal immediately after graduation. Dreazen arrived in Iraq in April 2003 with the Fourth Infantry Division, and spent the next two years living in Baghdad as the Wall Street Journal's main Iraq correspondent.
Dreazen has made more than 12 lengthy trips to Iraq and Afghanistan and has spent a total of nearly four years on the ground in the two countries, mostly doing front-line combat embeds. He has reported from more than 20 countries, including Pakistan, Russia, China, Israel, Japan, Turkey, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.
In 2010, Dreazen received the Military Reporters & Editors association’s top award for domestic military reporting in a large publication for a series of articles about military suicide and the psychological traumas impacting veterans of the two long wars. His writing has appeared in the Washington Post, Smithsonian, Tablet and the New Republic and he appears regularly on TV and radio programs such as NPR's Diane Rehm Show and PBS' Washington Week with Gwen Ifill. Dreazen gives frequent lectures about journalism, the wars and current events to both civilian and military audiences.
Dreazen lives in Washington with his wife, Annie Rosenzweig Dreazen, and their beloved Golden Retriever, Charlie.| The Cable |
Does Israel have chemical weapons, too? McCain, Graham: not trusting; Is Idris being shunned from DC?; POGO: security shortfalls at Kabul embassy; and a bit more [presented today by Lockheed Martin]Gordon Lubold
Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children.| Situation Report |
Shane Harris is a senior staff writer at Foreign Policy, covering intelligence and cyber security. He is the author of The Watchers: The Rise of America's Surveillance State, which chronicles the creation of a vast national security apparatus and the rise of surveillance in America. The Watchers won the New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and the Economist named it one of the best books of 2010. Shane is the winner of the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense. He has four times been named a finalist for the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists, which honor the best journalists in America under the age of 35. Prior to joining Foreign Policy, he was the senior writer for The Washingtonian and a staff correspondent at National Journal.| The Cable |