Russia balks at French plan to enforce deal on weapons

MOSCOW — A last-ditch effort to avert a U.S. military strike by transferring control of Syrian chemical weapons ran into obstacles Tuesday, as Russia balked at a French plan to enforce an international agreement under a binding U.N. Security Council resolution with a military option if necessary.

An unexpected Russian proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international monitoring and ultimately destroy them had appeared to be gaining traction earlier in the day, as Syria embraced it, China and Iran voiced support, and the United States said it would explore the idea seriously.

But a telephone conversation between French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, revealed a deep divide over their visions of the Security Council’s role – and particularly over the prospect of military action to ensure that an agreement would be honored.

There were also doubts about how Syria’s stockpiles of chemical weapons could be transferred to international monitors in the midst of a bloody and protracted civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives.

The call took place after France said it would draft a U.N. Security Council resolution to put the Russian proposal into effect.

In Washington, Secretary of State John Kerry told a House committee that the proposal “is the ideal way” to take chemical weapons away from the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. But he warned that the United States would not tolerate “delay” or “avoidance,” adding: “We’re waiting for that proposal, but we’re not waiting for long.”

Kerry will travel to Europe this week to discuss the proposal with Lavrov, a senior administration official said later Tuesday. The meeting will be Thursday in Geneva, where the United States and Russia hope to convene a separate peace conference on Syria, the official said.

– The Washington Post

Assad foes disappointed by U.S. shift on intervention

WASHINGTON — For more than two years, Syrian opposition activists implored Western nations to help their rebellion against Bashar Assad’s regime, flying to world capitals to lobby policymakers and posting thousands of videos that offered foreigners a glimpse of their misery.

The holy grail was U.S. military intervention, which activists finally thought was imminent just last week but now appears to be a fading prospect as the Obama administration and Congress look instead to a proposal that would avert a strike if Assad surrenders his chemical weapons to international authorities.

To the opposition, the move is tantamount to betrayal as the U.S. narrows its strategic interest in Syria to Assad’s chemical arsenal. And if such weapons do end up contained and eventually destroyed, it’s unclear what else, if anything, would draw the United States in, even if the regime continues to crush the rebellion through conventional warfare.

Opposition activist Radwan Ziadeh, director of the Washington-based Syrian Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said the U.S. shift away from intervention was all the more bitter because he learned of it Tuesday during an emotional trip to Sarajevo, the European city where in the 1990s brutal attacks on a civilian population forced a NATO intervention. He was part of a Syrian delegation studying the experience of the Bosnians, who took their Arab visitors to mass gravesites and to meet survivors of Serb massacres.

“They told us they lost faith in the international community until the Americans took leadership,” Ziadeh said. “It’s clear that what’s going on in Syria is like what happened in Bosnia, so it’s not acceptable for Assad to hand over his chemical weapons and continue killing us by other means. It’s a shame on the international community.”

– McClatchy Washington Bureau


Poll finds Americans strongly against U.S. military action

WASHINGTON — A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds Americans moving away from President Barack Obama’s position as he tries to build public support for a military strike against the Syrian government.

Overall, more than twice as many Americans oppose attacking Syria as support such action, 64 percent to 30 percent. Opposition is up from 59 percent in a Post-ABC poll last week, with the largest shift among Republicans. Fully 71 percent of Republicans now oppose launching airstrikes, up from 55 percent last week.

While showing little change from last week, nearly seven in 10 independents remain opposed (69 percent), as do 55 percent of self-identified Democrats. As in the previous survey, there is no political or demographic group in which a majority supports military action in Syria.

Despite the flagging support for intervention, a 57 percent majority endorses Obama’s decision to seek congressional authorization for military action. If he is unable to rally lawmakers, though, three-quarters say they would oppose a strike.

A Senate committee passed a resolution last week supporting a more limited form of action; the latest Washington Post count estimates that a majority of lawmakers in the House are at least leaning against a strike. But even if the Congress does give its authorization, that would persuade only 14 percent of the public to move from opposition to support. Nearly half, 48 percent, would continue to oppose action, while 44 percent would support it.

– The Washington Post


Carter urges U.S., Russian deal on chemical weapons

ATLANTA — Former President Jimmy Carter says he believes the best path forward in Syria is for the United States to work out a deal with Russia for Syria to give up its chemical weapons.

Carter said Tuesday during an event at The Carter Center that it would not be a catastrophe if Congress votes against President Barack Obama’s call for military action against Syria. He noted presidents have often put forward important issues later rejected by Congress.

Carter says he believes placing U.N. officials in Syria to oversee removal of chemical weapons would result in a ceasefire in large parts of the country. Carter also says it’s likely the United States will have to back down from requiring military action if Syria does not live up to a weapons disarmament plan.

– The Associated Press