September 15, 2013

Syrian official calls deal a victory for Assad regime

It's not clear whether the official's comments reflect Syrian President Bashar Assad's thinking on the chemical weapons surrender plan.

The Associated Pressd

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Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem on Sunday. Kerry sent a strong warning to Syria on Sunday, saying "the threat of force is real" if Syria does not carry out an internationally brokered agreement to hand over its chemical weapons.

The Associated Press

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While a ban on air power and ballistic missiles would likely curb the bloodshed in some areas, it's unclear how such a measure would be imposed or enforced. The Syrian government is highly unlikely to unilaterally relinquish such weapons, while Western powers have shown little appetite for setting up a no-fly zone in the country, a costly and potentially dangerous endeavor.

Obama, speaking in a TV interview taped before Saturday's announcement of the chemical weapons deal, said Russian President Vladimir Putin is "protecting" Assad and doesn't share American "values" in Syria.

"He has a different attitude about the Assad regime," Obama told ABC's "This Week."

"But what I've also said to him directly is that we both have an interest in preventing chaos, we both have an interest in preventing terrorism. The situation in Syria right now is untenable. As long as Mr. Assad's in power, there is going be some sort of conflict there."

The U.S.-Russian agreement has won broad backing around the world, including from China, which is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. France also welcomed the deal, but French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius cautioned during a visit Sunday in Beijing that it was only the "first stage."

In Cairo, the Arab League also supported the agreement.

"All parties are capable and influential enough to do their part in the U.N. Security Council to ensure a comprehensive cease-fire in Syria ... and to move toward negotiations in Geneva to achieve a peaceful settlement to the Syrian crisis," Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby said in a statement.

The deal was greeted with cautious optimism in Israel, where leaders expressed satisfaction that Syria, a bitter enemy, could be stripped of dangerous weapons but also pessimism about whether Assad will comply.

Standing next to Kerry in Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed his belief that the Geneva agreement would have deep repercussions for Iran, Syria's close ally.

"The world needs to ensure that radical regimes don't have weapons of mass destruction, because as we have learned in Syria, if rogue regimes have weapons of mass destruction, they will use them," Netanyahu said. "The determination the international community shows regarding Syria will have a direct impact on the Syrian regime's patron, Iran."

U.N. diplomats said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was expected to brief the Security Council on Monday about what its inspectors found from the sites of the suspected gas attack. They spoke anonymously because the timing was not yet final.

Germany offered Sunday to help destroy Syrian chemical weapons. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Berlin is "prepared to make a technical or financial contribution to the destruction of chemical weapons from Syria." He didn't elaborate, but officials say Germany has helped destroy chemical weapons in Libya and elsewhere in the past.

The Syrian opposition warned that the Assad regime may just be playing for time and said the threat of force must remain on the table. It added that securing Syria's chemical weapons "must be for achieving justice and bringing the perpetrators of chemical weapons to the international court."

The Syrian National Coalition also repeated its calls for military aid, to "force the regime to end its military campaign and accept a political solution that leads to the democratic transformation of Syria."

The U.S. and its allies have balked at sending heavy weapons to the rebels, fearful the arms could land in the hands of extremists who are among the most effective fighters in the opposition ranks. Washington announced plans months ago to deliver weapons to the opposition, but rebels say they have yet to receive anything.

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