Syrian crisis: Keeping up with key developments

MGN Online
Friday, September 13, 2013 - 7:08pm

 High-stakes diplomacy unfolded Friday in Geneva, Switzerland, over the long-running Syrian crisis.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov continued discussions about Moscow's initiative to control, remove and destroy Syria's chemical weapons.

Success in those discussions on chemical weapons could jump-start an initiative for renewing peace talks. The effort, called Geneva II and spearheaded by U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, would be designed to end the Syrian civil war.

LATEST DEVELOPMENTS FRIDAY:

• U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to present a U.N. chemical weapons inspectors report on Syria at 11 a.m. Monday to members of the Security Council, three diplomatic sources said. The report delves into chemical weapons used on August 21 on the outskirts of Damascus. Noting the fluidity of the situation, the sources said Friday night that the timing of the presentation could change.

• Ban said Friday that he believes findings from U.N. inspectors -- expected to be released next week -- "will be an overwhelming report that chemical weapons were used."

• American intelligence analysts are at odds over what the United States knows about the location of Syria's chemical weapons, CNN has learned. Disagreement within the intelligence community surfaced over the past few weeks as spy agencies observed Syria -- fearing a possible U.S. military strike -- moving a significant amount of chemical weaponry, according to two U.S. officials familiar with internal discussions.

• After his talks conclude in Geneva, Kerry will head to Israel and then to Paris -- where he'll meet with the foreign ministers of France, Britain and Saudi Arabia -- before returning to Washington on September 16, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

• Joint U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi called the Syria talks involving the top diplomats from Russia and the United States "extremely important" not just as they relate to chemical weapons, but also in moving forward the process toward forging a political resolution to Syria's two-year civil war.

Brahimi hosted a meeting Friday between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, according to a U.N. statement.

• The White House expects to know within several weeks if the talks aimed at having the international community obtain and destroy the Syrian government's chemical weapons stockpile will be successful, senior Obama administration officials say. Still, the fact that this is being discussed diplomatically is a deterrent in itself, according to the officials.

• U.S. President Barack Obama met Friday with Kuwait's emir, who agreed with him "that the use of chemical weapons that we saw in Syria was a criminal act ... and it is absolutely important for the international community to respond," according to Obama. Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah spoke of "the suffering of the Syrian people (and) refugees" and his desire "to keep the region free from the danger of war."

• Continuing an at times tense back-and-forth between the two countries, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the United States is "unaccustomed" to competition in the world, according to a report from Russia's official RIA Novosti news agency. Speaking on the heels of a New York Times op-ed by by Russian President Vladimir Putin that was critical of Washington, Peskov said, "Putin never preaches to anyone. Meanwhile, our American partners and friends in the past several decades have grown too used to patting everyone on the back patronizingly."

• Syrian troops have retaken the town of Maaloul from rebel fighters, Syrian state TV reported Friday, broadcasting images of government tanks and soldiers rolling through the streets. "This peaceful, beautiful town ... was violated by gangs of betrayal," said Hilal Hilal, a local official, in the report. "... And therefore, the people of the town and the Syrian Arab army confronted these gangs and forced them out."

PREVIOUS DEVELOPMENTS

Chemical weapons

• The United Nations on Friday provided a time frame for Syria in its quest for accession, or membership, in the Chemical Weapons Convention:

-- U.N. lawyers are perusing Syria's request.

--Once that request is deemed legally sufficient, Syria automatically becomes a convention member. The legal review could take days or weeks.

-- After 30 days from Syria's accession, the convention is legally binding on Syria and it must permit inspections.

-- After another 30 days -- which would be 60 days from when it formally joined the convention -- Syria would have to declare its chemical weapons stockpiles.

-- All chemical weapons stocks must be disposed of within a decade.

• Speaking at a joint news conference with Lavrov, Kerry on Friday called his conversations with his counterpart on the chemical weapons issue "constructive" and said the talks were continuing.

• Senior officials in President Barack Obama's administration said Friday that they have no expectation that Russia would agree to include anything in a U.N. Security Council resolution that would trigger the use of military force in Syria.

• Lavrov said a path needs to be designed that "would make sure this issue is resolved quickly, professionally, as soon as practical." He said professionals, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations need to be engaged in the effort.

• The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons -- the body that oversees the Chemical Weapons Convention, an agreement banning the possession of chemical weapons -- says it has received a request from Syria for technical assistance, in relation to its stated intention to sign up to the ban.

• The OPCW is in the process of convening a meeting to discuss the technical assistance request. It will take place at the group's headquarters in the Hague, probably in the middle of next week.

Peace initiative

• Kerry, Lavrov and Brahimi pledged to work toward setting a date for a second round of international peace talks involving all parties in Syria, known as Geneva II. This would be a continuation of the talks held in Geneva in June 2012.

• Kerry and Lavrov are planning to meet again at the end of September, on the margins of the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting.

• The president of Oxfam America, the international relief and development organization, regards the Kerry-Lavrov meetings in Geneva as "positive" but regrets that the diplomats failed to set a date "for the elusive Geneva peace conference." "Further delays will only result in more death, displacement and suffering," the group's president, Ray Offenheiser, said.

Kerry remarks

• Kerry said they will gauge whether it is possible to find a date for a Geneva II conference when they meet around September 28. Forging that conference will "obviously depend on the capacity to have success here in the next day, hours, days, on the subject of the chemical weapons," he said.

• "I would say, on behalf of the United States, that President Obama is deeply committed to a negotiated solution with respect to Syria. And we know that Russia is likewise," Kerry said. "We are working hard to find the common ground to be able to make that happen."

• Kerry said he and Lavrov are concerned about "the acts on both sides, all sides, that are creating more and more refugees, more and more of a humanitarian catastrophe." "We are committed to trying to work together, beginning with this initiative on the chemical weapons, in hopes that those efforts could pay off and bring peace and stability to a war-torn part of the world."

Lavrov remarks

• Lavrov said he regrets that the communique that came out of the June 2012 Geneva meeting was "basically abandoned" and not endorsed in the U.N. Security Council. But he praised Kerry, saying he "understood the importance of moving on Syria and doing something about this."

• Lavrov praised Kerry for traveling to Moscow on May 7 "when we launched the Russian-American initiative to convene a Geneva conference and to implement fully the Geneva communique"

• The communique, Lavrov said, means that "Syrian parties must reach mutual consent on the transitional governing organs which would command full executive authority. And the communique also says that all groups of Syrian society must be represented."

Ban Ki-moon remarks

• U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon indicated that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will be held accountable for crimes but stressed that the first priority in dealing with Syria is stopping the war and promoting dialogue.

• "What happened is that he (al-Assad) has committed many crimes against humanity and therefore I am sure there will be surely a process of accountability when everything is over," Ban said, speaking at an event at the U.N. headquarters on Friday. "But at this time first and foremost we have to help the fighting stop and the dialogue, talking begin. That is what I have been saying: Let diplomacy have a chance and peace a chance."

On the ground

• At least 46 people have been killed in Syria on Friday, with 16 of the deaths occurring in Daraa province, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said. Artillery shellings occurred in many locations, and airstrikes were also reported, the group said. In one incident in the Damascus suburbs, the Free Syrian Army targeted the government's Military Intelligence Branch with heavy machine guns and scored "direct hits," the LCC said. CNN could not independently confirm the reports.

• Kerry will travel to Jerusalem on Sunday to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Friday. They will discuss the final-status talks between Israelis and Palestinians but also are to focus on developments in Syria.

• The U.N. refugee agency, which has reported millions of Syrians displaced by the civil war, said it has seen a "sharp increase" of Syrians arriving by boat in southern Italy. Most have come from Egypt.

• The Free Syrian Army hopes that its "military supplies will increase in the coming days," Louay Al-Mokdad, the army's political and media coordinator, said Friday. The rebels are issuing guarantees that munitions won't fall into "the wrong hands," such as extremist groups and "undisciplined rebel elements."

• Human Rights Watch issued a report saying Syrian government and pro-government forces executed at least 248 people in the towns of al-Bayda and Baniyas in May. It was one of the deadliest instances of mass summary executions since the start of the conflict in Syria.

CNN's Joe Sterling, Saad Abedine, Nick Paton Walsh, Hamdi Alkhshali and Samira Said contributed to this report
 

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