Tag Archives: chemical weapons

Ukraine president, opposition sign EU-brokered agreement on ending crisis

 Vitali Klitschko (left), leader of Ukraine’s UDAR opposition party, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (centre) and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (right) after the signing of the Agreement in the Presidential Palace on Friday, February 21, 2014.

Vitali Klitschko (left), leader of Ukraine’s UDAR opposition party, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (centre) and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (right) after the signing of the Agreement in the Presidential Palace on Friday, February 21, 2014.

Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich and opposition leaders have signed an EU brokered agreement on ending the political crisis in the country.

The Ukrainian opposition representatives included the leader of the UDAR political party, Vitaly Klitschko, the head of the Batkivshchyna opposition party, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and the leader of the nationalist Svoboda opposition party, Oleg Tyagnibok.

The breakthrough agreement was witnessed by EU foreign ministers who brokered the deal, including Poland’s Radoslaw Sikorski and Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier, as well as Director at the Continental Europe Department of the French Foreign Ministry, Eric Fournier.

Russia’s Human Rights Commissioner Vladimir Lukin, who was present at the negotiations, noted the positive dynamic of the talks.

“We got acquainted with our partners’ position, and now we understand it,” he said. However, he added that “the biggest difficulty is that the situation is constantly changing” and there is no clarity as to who will fulfill the agreements and how.

On Friday, Yanukovich announced early presidential elections and the return to the constitution of 2004, which limits presidential powers and widens the parliament’s authority. Ukraine’s Parliament has already adopted a law restoring the constitution of 2004 with 386 MP’s voting in favor.

Yanukovich also said a national unity government will be created.

Deputies of the Ukrainian parliament vote for a constitution change in Kiev on February 21, 2014.

Steinmeier has confirmed that the signed deal includes these points. The EU foreign ministers have welcomed Ukraine’s agreement and called for an immediate end to violence.

According to the conditions of the agreement, within 48 hours a law restoring the 2004 constitution is to be adopted and signed, after which in 10 days a national unity government is to be formed.

The agreement also states that as soon as the new constitution is adopted, no later than September, the presidential election must be held until December.

Yatsenyuk has confirmed the snap presidential election will be held between September and December.

In addition, there will be an investigation into the “recent acts of violence” committed during the anti-government riots. Under the deal, no state of emergency will be imposed in the country, while the government will adopt an amnesty “covering the same range of illegal actions as the February-17 2014 law.”

“Both parties will undertake serious efforts to normalize life in the cities and villages by withdrawing from administrative and public buildings and unblocking streets, city parks and squares” the text of the agreement reads.

Leader of far-right group Right Sector, Dmitri Yarosh, told the protesters at Maidan Square Friday that the deal reached between the president and the opposition is not acceptable. Yarosh said that his group will not be putting down their arms until President Viktor Yanukovich resigns. “The Right Sector will not lay down its arms. The Right Sector will not remove the blockade of one of the government buildings until our most important requirement is fulfilled – the resignation of Yanukovich,” Unian quoted him as saying.

Later on Friday, presidential impeachment bill was introduced in the Ukrainian parliament. The new initiative was authored by Nikolay Rudkovskiy, the head of the Socialist Party in Ukraine, which is part of the ruling Party of Regions coalition. The bill was published on parliament’s website, though no details were provided.

Also, the Ukrainian parliament voted on Friday in favor of an unconditional amnesty for all people detained, or who might face possible prosecution in the current unrest.

Under the agreement all illegal weapons should be handed over to the Ministry of Interior within 24 hours. After this, all cases of illegal carrying and storage of weapons will be prosecuted under Ukraine law.

The last article of the deal urges forces on both sides of the conflict to refrain from confrontation, adding that law enforcement should be used “exclusively for the physical protection of public buildings.”

Ukraine has been gripped by protests since November, with the opposition calling for Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to resign. Initially the protests were triggered by Yanukovich backing down from the EU integration deal. However, these have turned into violent riots against the government. The situation escalated from January to February and saw its peak this week, after rioters reignited street clashes with police in the capital Kiev.

 RT News


​Protect Syria : Will Samantha Power’s words fool us again?

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power

After several hours of closed-door Security Council Consultations at the United Nations on Thursday, February 13, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power came out in front of the press to do what she does best.

Power gave a speech bemoaning what she called “the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation.” She gave statistics of “6.8 million Syrians in need of assistance…. There were 4.25 million internally displaced persons…” She spoke of “images of emaciated and tortured Syrians, of dead and dying children, and of so much more.”

Samantha Power has been the UN Ambassador for several months now, after a lengthy career as one of the many voices reciting this same narrative. Each performance is delivered with a different cast of characters, in different corner the globe where some government has defied Wall Street and neo-liberalism, and the pentagon is itching to attack. The public, of course, must be psyched up to support arming the terrorists, sending the cruise missiles, and overthrowing the defiant regime.

Syrian refugees wait to fill up plastic water containers at the Al-Zaatari refugee camp near the Jordanian city of Mafraq, some 8-kilometres from the Syrian border

This kind of human rights hypocrisy is definitive of Power’s career, and of the US and European discourse on ‘human rights’ in general. Power’s career began with promoting US intervention in Serbia. While her writings bemoaned atrocities blamed on Slobodan Milosevic (many later proven to false), she ignored the crimes of the Kosovo Liberation Army, a group of religious terrorists, who also received loads of weapons and funding from the United States.

The US media, Power among its ranks, created a ‘human rights’ frenzy, with Western TV audiences sobbing about ‘mass rapes’ and ‘concentration camps’ and thinking the US was intervening to rescue the helpless victims. Public support was built up for a horrendous bombing campaign that resulted in thousands of Serbians being killed. Hospitals and schools were deliberately targeted with Cruise Missiles.

The US ‘rescued’ Serbia’s children by reducing their homes and schools to rubble, and arming the Kosovo Liberation Army to rape, torture, and murder them.

Power was part of yet another US ‘human rights’ crusade. She is credited with being one of the key figures in pushing for US and NATO intervention in Libya. Here once again, the US funded murderous rebels who committed horrific crimes, but the airwaves and the speeches from the White House were filled with denunciations of the ‘dictator’ Gaddafi. NATO once again ‘rescued’ the victims by bombing their country into ruin.

In each of these instances, Power and her colleagues give a similar performance. Power speaks humanitarian outrages committed by the latest international target of the United States. The words unfold with a diction that almost sounds like that of a left-wing political agitator; they demand we “take a stand” and “stop the suffering of innocent people.” In the rhetoric of the ‘human rights’ interventionists, it is a matter of morality, that the bombs fall, regimes be overthrown, and the US military expand its presence throughout the world.

A rebel fighter takes aim at regime forces in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo

The problem with this narrative is that the ‘innocents’ whom Power and others call to protect, never end up better off. In Serbia, the people have a far lower standard of living now that Milosevic is gone. Unemployment has risen. Healthcare is less available. By every basic measure of societal health, the people are far worse off.

Libya once had the highest life expectancy on the African continent. Gaddafi provided free healthcare and education to all. The proceeds from Libya’s vast oil resources were used to build a welfare state where people were cared for and lived very well. No one can look at Libya today, a mess of civil war, poverty, and starvation, and say that things ‘got better’ for the people.

Factions are battling each other for control of the country. Poverty, homelessness, and suffering have risen to levels unheard of prior to the 1969 revolution. The ‘dictatorship’ of Gaddafi has been replaced by the ‘anarchy’ of free market neo-liberalism, and warring factions hoping to fill the vacancy in power.

President Obama, Samantha Power, and the echoing voices in the media speak only of ‘the dictator’ Assad. They promote the cause of the torturing, kidnapping, and child recruiting insurgent groups. Syria has been torn apart already by four years of civil war, financed by Western countries that want the independent Baathist government removed.

But let’s look at the track record of these kinds of ‘interventions’. The lives of the people never improve. The ‘human rights’ situation often gets much worse.

If insurgents are victorious in their push for ‘regime change’ in Syria, it is clear that the Syrians will be far worse off. Neo-liberalism will triumph over nationalism and independence. Quality of life will decrease. Poverty will rise. Chaos and war will replace stability. The people Power, Obama, and all the others are ‘taking a stand’ for, will be far worse off.

It has happened over and over again. US bombs don’t bring freedom.

With Syria already torn apart by years of civil war as the US funds terrorist insurgent groups who clearly cannot win by themselves, with the voices calling for ‘humanitarian intervention’, with an endless media campaign demonizing a government that has long defied Wall Street, Tel Aviv, and Washington, DC, the question is: will Samantha Power’s beautiful words fool us again?

Caleb Maupin for RT

Caleb Maupin is a foreign policy analyst and organizer with the International Action Center and Workers World Party.

​Protect Syria: Will Samantha Power’s words fool us again? — RT Op-Edge.

Russian Military Delegation headed by Air Force commander Arrived in Egypt On Unannounced Visit

Vladimir Putin talks with Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi  during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, 13 February 2014.

Vladimir Putin talks with Egyptian Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, 13 February 2014.

A high level Russian military delegation led by Air Force commander Viktor Bondarev arrived in Cairo late Monday on an unannounced visit, sources at Cairo International Airport said.

A high-level Russian military delegation led by Air Force commander Viktor Bondarev arrived in Cairo late Monday on an unannounced visit, sources at Cairo International Airport said.

No details are yet available about the agenda of the Russian delegation’s visit to Egypt.

The visit comes a few days after Egypt’s army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi concluded a visit to Moscow, where he agreed with Russian officials on boosting their military relations.

In November, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Cairo – the first such visit by a Russian defense minister to the Egyptian capital since 1971.

November’s visit came amid reports of a $4 billion Russian arms export deal with Egypt, considered the largest Egypt-Russia arms deal since former president Anwar al-Sadat stopped purchasing weapons from Russia in 1977 and tilted towards the United States.

Syria Peace Talks In Doubt After 6th Day In Geneva

GENEVA (AP) — U.N.-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi ended direct talks between the Syrian government and opposition Saturday without finding a way of breaking the impasse in peace talks.

Saturday’s talks, which lasted less than half an hour, left the future of the negotiating process in doubt and no date was set for a third session.

Brahimi told a news conference that both sides agreed that the agenda for the next round should focus on four points: ending the violence and terrorism, creating a transitional governing body, building national institutions, and reconciliation.

To avoid losing another week or more before resuming discussions, Brahimi said he proposed that the first day should be reserved for talks on ending violence and combating terrorism, the main thrust of the government’s stance, and the second for talking about how to create a transitional body, as the opposition and Western powers insist.

“Unfortunately the government has refused, which raises the suspicion of the opposition that in fact the government doesn’t want to discuss the TGB (transitional governing body) at all,” Brahimi said.

“In that case, I have suggested that it’s not good for the process, it’s not good for Syria that we come back for another round and fall in the same trap that we have been struggling with this week and most of the first round,” he said. “So I think it is better that every side goes back and reflect and take their responsibility: do they want this process to take place or not?”

Brahimi said he would consult with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov about a way forward.

“I am very, very sorry, and I apologize to the Syrian people that their hopes which were very, very high that something will happen here,” Brahimi said.

Syria’s ambassador to the U.N., Bashar Jaafari, said the government accepted Brahimi’s proposed agenda but a problem was raised “by the other side when they gave their own interpretation of the agenda.”

He insisted that the government is committed to returning to negotiations.

“We promised our own people to get back to Geneva to continue the Geneva talks as long as it takes, because we are extremely careful about stopping the bloodshed in Syria and combatting terrorism,” Jaafari told reporters. “This I promise you: We will be committed to doing so.”

Anas al-Abdeh, a member of the opposition negotiating team, said his side accepted the agenda but the government’s unwillingness to go along with the order of discussions put the prospects of a third session of talks within the “Geneva 2″ negotiating round in doubt. The first two sessions lasted from Jan. 22-31 and Feb. 10-15. The first round, known as “Geneva 1,” resulted in a roadmap for peace in June 2012 that was not followed.

Al-Abdeh called the continuing stalemate in negotiations a result of the government’s “continuous effort to not talk and not to discuss the issue of the transitional governing body.”

Syria Peace Talks In Doubt After 6th Day In Geneva « CBS DC.

Saudi Arabia to supply Syrian rebels with anti-aircraft missiles

Frustrated by the deadlock of the second round of Geneva 2 talks, Saudi Arabia has reportedly offered to supply the rebels with anti-aircraft missiles. Meanwhile Russia has accused the US of once again hijacking peace talks and pushing for regime change.

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Russian-made antitank guided missiles and Chinese man-portable air-defense systems are up for grabs, already waiting in warehouses in Jordan and Turkey.

An Arab diplomat and several opposition figures with knowledge of the Saudi efforts have told WSJ that these supplies are likely to tip the battlefield scales, as the rebels will become capable of taking on the government’s air power and destroying heavy armored vehicles.

“New stuff is arriving imminently,” a Western diplomat with knowledge of the planned weapons deliveries told the American publication.

Leaders of the Syrian opposition said they don’t yet know the total amount of military aid that will be shipped. The new weapons are expected to reach southern Syria from Jordan while the opposition in the north will get arms from Turkey, the Western diplomat said.

Raising fears that civilian aircraft may eventually become targets, last June several media outlets suggested that Saudi Arabia had already begun supplying anti-aircraft launchers and missiles to militants in Syria. But so far Saudi Arabia, as well as the US, has been officially opposed to arming the rebels with big guns and antiaircraft missiles as they could fall into extremist hands.

According to the WSJ report, rebel commanders struck a deal on the new armaments shipment during a meeting with US and Saudi intelligence agents in Jordan on January 30. During that meeting, rebels allegedly claimed that their new military gains would help force official Damascus consider President Assad’s ouster and bring forward a political solution to the conflict.

Mercenaries on US payroll?

The Wall Street Journal also reports that their rebel sources claimed the US government is paying their salaries to fight the Assad forces. The Southern Front brigades allegedly received $3 million in cash in salaries during the two meetings in Jordan, one held on January 30 and the other late last year.

Meanwhile, congressional aides told the WSJ about scheduled meetings with Syrian opposition leaders next week. The Syrian delegation will allegedly seek extra armaments in order to battle al-Qaeda and al-Nusra elements.

“We’re trying to assure the international community that they can support moderates without the threat of arms falling into the hands of al-Qaeda,” said Oubai Shahbandar, a senior adviser to the Syrian opposition. Saudi Arabia and US have so far refused to comment.

Geneva 2 stalemate

As the second round of Geneva 2 talks so far fails to produce any results, the Russian Foreign Minister has criticized the American stance at the negotiations accusing it of hijacking the talks for the purpose of “regime change” in Syria.

“The only thing they want to talk about is the establishment of a transitional governing body,” Sergey Lavrov said Friday after meeting with the German foreign minister in Moscow. “Only after that are they ready to discuss the urgent and most pressing problems, like terrorism.”

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a meeting in Moscow on February 14, 2014.

“I am very worried about the systematic attempts to disrupt the political settlement in Syria,” therefore “forcing the (Syrian) government to slam the door.”

Lavrov recalled that talks were kick started to implement the original Geneva communique, position of which Russia and Syria solemnly defend. The June 2012 document stipulates the creation of a transitional political body, holding of free and fair elections, the start of a national dialogue, a review of the constitution and legal system. Nowhere does it mention removal of president Assad.

“Now they are saying that to keep talking is senseless, because the government (of Syria) doesn’t want to agree about the makeup of a transitional governing body. We are going in circles,”
Lavrov said.

The Syrian government’s position remains that stopping terrorism and bloodshed should be the priority at the negotiations that started last month. The second round of negotiations between government and opposition representatives began on Monday but no progress has yet been made. The opposition, backed by the US and its allies, insists on forming a transitional authority with “full executive powers,” thus ousting Assad.

Rebel fighters inspect an alley in the eastern Syrian town of Deir Ezzor on February 14, 2014.

After five days of negotiations the opposition has accused the government’s team of “belligerence,” while the government delegation said that the opposition have an “unrealistic agenda.”

“The negotiations are not moving toward a political solution,”
said Louay Safi, a spokesman for the Syrian opposition delegation, accusing the government side of adopting a hostile stance.

“I deeply regret to say that this round did not achieve any progress,”
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said. “We came to the Geneva conference to implement Syria’s declared position to reach a political solution. … Unfortunately the other side came with another agenda, with an unrealistic agenda.”

The UN’s Lakhdar Brahimi, curator of the talks, plans to meet the sides on Saturday, the final day for round two of the negotiations, but it remains unclear if he can offer any prospect of drawing the warring parties closer together.

Saudi Arabia to supply Syrian rebels with anti-aircraft missiles – report — RT News.

Last day of Geneva-2: Syrian gov’t wants to stop violence, opposition stands against

Geneva II peace talks

The second round of the inter-Syrian talks is drawing to an end in Geneva. Friday, in theory, is the last but one day in the present series of meetings whic involve a Syrian government delegation, on the one hand, and that of the opposition as represented by the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (NCROF), on the other.

However, on Thursday, for the first time since the Geneva-2 peace conference was started at the end of January, the sides not only kept away from the negotiating table but did not even held separate consutations with Lakhdar Brahimi, UN/LAS joint representative on Syria, with whose mediation discussions have been held.

“Syria is inside a dark tunnel and we here make attempts at finding gleams of light at the end of this tunnel. And we are still looking for such gleams,” Brahimi acknowledged at a news conference on Thursday.

He said that in the lack of an agenda, no dialogue had begun on any subject that each of the delegations considers to be principled.

The purpose of the government is to fight terrorism and stop violence while the oppoents of the present authorities press for the formation of a transitional governing body, in which there would be no room either for President Bashar Assad or anyone from among his entourage.

Brahimi himself at the beginning of the week suggested discussing two themes in a parallel manner, to which the delegations did not give consent.

Unwilling to make concessions on the principled matters, the sides virtually decline to speak to each other.

This does not allow the process to make headway if only by small steps towards taking confidence-building measures on the basis of which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had called for conducting a dialogue. This refers to local cessations of fire and an exchange of lists of detainees and kidnapped people.

As the only positive aspect, Brahimi mentioned the temporary truce in the city of Homs, from the old quarters of which 1,400 civilians have been evacuated within the week. But he immediately recalled that UN and Red Crescent staff had been fired upon and that there remain a dozen of other cities in that country, access to which has been barred for humanitarian personnel.

Now that there is an utter lack of headway “inside”, and the negotiating process has reached an impasse, the role of outside players, primarily Russia and the United States, which had suggested the Geneva-2 peace conference, is coming to the fore.

In an attempt to add “constructivism” to the sides, as a Russian diplomat put it, a trilateral meeting in the RF-USA-UN format was held in Geneva on Thursday.

For two hours Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, and Brahimi held closed-door discussions.

As a result of the consultations, the Algerian diplomat said Russia and the USA promised to help in unblocking the inter-Syrian talks.

“The meeting in the trilateral format was very important,” he said. “Russia and the USA promisid here and in the capitals to help forward the process, in which there is little progress.”

Brahimi did not specify which particual help Moscow and Washington would give and what arguments they would find for the two delegations.

However, the Russian and American diplomats did not shelve the matter and went ahead with work immediately following the close of the trilateral meeting. Gatilov set out for a meeting with the Syrian Foreign Miniser while Sherman went out for talks with the opposition’s delegation.

What will be the direction of the process and, actually whether there will be a third round of of meetings will depend on the outcome of these contacts.

Both delegations assure that they intend to return to the shore of Lake Geneva but do not mention any date for that and continue to accuse each other of an utter lack of a constructive approach, without which to see light at the end of the tunnel is a no easy task.

Russia hopes for successful negotiation of Syrian humanitarian resolution in UN – diplomat

Russia hopes for the successful negotiation of the resolution on Syria in the UN Security Council on the basis of two projects submitted by Moscow and its partners, stated Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s permanent representative to the UN.

” Two projects were presented … I think this time they will be successful”, Churkin told reporters after consultations on Syria in the UN Security Council.

Geneva-2: second round of negotiations may end on Friday – Syrian opposition

The Secretary General of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces Jamus Badr told reporters today that final meeting of second round of negotiations of Geneva-2 will be held on Friday at 11:30 am Geneva time (15:30 Moscow Time).

“Tomorrow our delegation was invited to the meeting by a joint UN and Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi. He announced that this meeting will be the last one,” said Jamus.

Geneva-2: Syrian issues to take long time to resolve – Brahimi

The issues of the fight against terrorism and the establishment of a transitional governing body in Syria will take a long time to resolve, the joint United Nations and Arab League envoy on Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, said Thursday.

Brahimi told a news briefing that the agenda of the intra-Syrian talks currently ongoing in Geneva has not been formed yet.

Whether these issues will be discussed in parallel or not, but these problems will not be resolved this or next week, he said.

The parties to the Syrian conflict resumed talks on February 10, starting the second round of the Geneva-2 international peace conference on Syria, whose first round ended January 31 with no substantive results.

Geneva-2, organized by Russia and the United States, seeks to negotiate a solution to the Syrian crisis which has claimed over 100,000 lives and displaced millions since its start in 2011.

The position of the Syrian government delegation is that the fight against terrorism should be discussed at the current talks first and a transitional governing body later. But the Syrian opposition apparently believes the transitional government issue, mentioned in the Geneva Communique, should top the discussion agenda.

The Geneva Communique was adopted on June 30, 2012 at a conference of an “action group” on Syria in Geneva. That conference is now commonly referred to as “Geneva-1.”

Geneva-2 is its logical continuation.

Russian, Syrian diplomats to hold new meeting in Geneva

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem will hold a new meeting in Geneva as part of the talks between the Syrian government and opposition.

“I will have a meeting with Walid Muallem. We maintain regular contact,” Gatilov said on Thursday, February 13.

He attended trilateral consultations with US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and the Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States for the Syrian Crisis, Lakhdar Brahimi, in Geneva on Wednesday.


المخابرات الأمريكية : 7500 مقاتل أجنبي بسوريا والقاعدة لن تهزم


واشنطن، الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية — قال رئيس جهاز الاستخبارات القومية بأمريكا، جايمس كلابر، إن هناك 7500 مقاتل أجنبي يتواجدون داخل الأراضي السورية قادمين من 50 دولة

من جهته قال رئيس وكالة الاستخبارات الدفاعية بأمريكا، مايكل فلين في الجلسة ذاتها: “هناك احتمال كبير بقيام عناصر من المتشددين بصفوف المعارضة السورية بمداهمة واستغلال الأسلحة الكيماوية والبيولوجية في المخازن قبل التمكن من إزالتها من قبل المجتمع الدولي”

وحول اللامركزية في قيادة تنظيم القاعدة، وإن كان التنظيم في طريقة للهزيمة قدم المسؤولان الأمريكيان تقيمهما للوضع، حيث قال كلابر: “لا، التنظيم يتحول ويقدم امتيازاته لجماعات أخرى، وليس فقط في شمال أفريقيا، بل وفي مناطق أخرى من العالم.. لا لن يهزموا”

واضاف كلابر: “إن من بين هؤلاء المقاتلين الـ7500، مجموعة من تنظيم القاعدة قدموا من أفغانستان وباكستان وأن لهم طموح بتنفيذ هجمات في أوروبا إن لم يكن في الولايات المتحدة الأمريكية ذاتها


U.S. Spy Chief Says Assad Has Strengthened His Hold on Power


WASHINGTON — The country’s top intelligence official ” James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence” said Tuesday that President Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power in Syria had “strengthened” over the past year, and that he had benefited from a deal to abandon his chemical weapons arsenal.

Concern has been mounting both in Congress and in the Obama administration that the policy toward Syria is faltering on several fronts.

Secretary of State John Kerry fueled those concerns on Sunday with remarks in a closed-door meeting with lawmakers at a security conference in Munich.

“Secretary Kerry expressed frustration with the lack of success of the current policy in Syria,” said Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who attended the session.

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, who also was at the meeting, said that Mr. Kerry appeared to be especially worried by the increase in the number of extremists who had streamed to Syria.

“Secretary Kerry said that we have got to change our strategy when it comes to Al Qaeda, and he was clearly expressing frustration with the Russians and Assad,” Mr. Graham said. “He talked about the need to provide more capacity to the opposition.”

Asked for comment, Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, said Tuesday that the Obama administration was still committed to the Geneva peace talks, due to resume next week, and believed they were helping to build international pressure on the Assad government. And she denied that Mr. Kerry had called for a new strategy on Syria.

“No one in this administration thinks we’re doing enough until the humanitarian crisis has been solved and the civil war ended,” she said. “That is no different from the message Secretary Kerry conveyed during the private meeting.”

The Obama administration has hoped that the peace talks in Geneva might allow moderate opposition government leaders and Syrian officials to negotiate a transitional government that does not include Mr. Assad. But Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy to the talks, told the Munich conference on Friday that the first round of negotiations had made “no progress.”

Critics say such talks are unlikely to succeed unless Mr. Assad is weakened militarily and has some incentive to negotiate. But with the government receiving arms from Russia and Iran, and with the United States providing only limited support to the moderate opposition, critics say, there seems to be little reason for Mr. Assad to make major concessions.

Mr. Clapper’s testimony has only sharpened the debate. During a hearing before the House Intelligence Committee, Mr. Clapper said that Mr. Assad had grown stronger over the past year “by virtue of his agreement to remove the chemical weapons.”

President Obama has hailed the agreement as a significant diplomatic breakthrough, and during his State of the Union address last week he cited it as an example of how his foreign policy had been effective.

But many experts say that the agreement may ultimately work to Mr. Assad’s advantage, as it prompted the Obama administration to withdraw its threat to carry out cruise missile attacks, has built up the Syrian government credibility on the world stage and has allowed it to play for time.

In the early months of the Syrian rebellion in 2011, Mr. Obama called for Mr. Assad to step down, but he has since dropped this language from his public statements about Syria.

On Tuesday, Mr. Clapper also said it was possible the violence could rage on indefinitely, leading to “sort of a perpetual stalemate where neither the regime nor the opposition can prevail.”

Mr. Clapper appeared at the hearing with the heads of several other American intelligence agencies. John O. Brennan, director of the C.I.A., warned that the chaos in Syria had become fertile ground for militant groups to stage attacks outside the country.

“We are concerned about the use of Syrian territory by the Al Qaeda organization to recruit individuals and develop the capability to be able not just to carry out attacks inside of Syria, but also to use Syria as a launching pad,” he said.

Mr. Clapper said at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing last week that “Al Nusra Front, to name one, does have aspirations for attacks on the homeland.”

Russia, seeking to mollify international officials impatient with Syria for missing deadlines to destroy its chemical arsenal, said Tuesday that the Syrian government planned to send a large shipment out of the country this month and to export its entire stockpile by March 1.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, defended the Syrian government’s explanations for the missed deadlines, arguing that security dangers posed by the Syrian civil war had created problems in transporting the chemicals to the port of Latakia, where an international flotilla awaits them. But Western officials have suggested this is merely an excuse.

Despite a negotiated timetable, Syria missed a Dec. 31 deadline to export the most dangerous chemicals and will miss a second deadline on Wednesday to export all the chemicals.

U.S. Spy Chief Says Assad Has Strengthened His Hold on Power – NYTimes.com.

Russia says Syria to remove chemical weapons this month

U.N. chemical weapons experts prepare before collecting samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Damascus' suburb of Zamalka August 29, 2013.

U.N. chemical weapons experts prepare before collecting samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack in Damascus’ suburb of Zamalka August 29, 2013.

(Reuters) – Syria plans to send a large shipment of toxic agents out of the country this month and can complete the removal process by March 1, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

“Literally yesterday the Syrians announced that the removal of a large shipment of chemical substances is planned in February. They are ready to complete this process by March 1,” state-run Russia news agency RIA quoted Gatilov as saying.

The operation to dispose of Syria’s chemical stockpile under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States is far behind schedule and a deadline for sending all toxic agents out of Syria this week will be missed, Reuters reported last week.

U.S. officials accused Damascus of dragging its feet and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last Friday to put pressure on Assad’s government to accelerate the operation.

Russia, the government’s most powerful backer during a nearly three-year-old civil conflict in Syria, has said Western concerns are overblown and rejected accusations that the delays are deliberate, citing security and logistical issues.

“As for timing, in principle everything is going OK,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying. “There really are difficulties linked to the need to provide security for this operation,” Gatilov was quoted as saying.

Senators : Kerry Suggested Arming Syrian Rebels


Two leading advocates of direct American involvement in Syria’s civil war say the Obama administration may be considering taking a greater role.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., say Secretary of State John Kerry made blunt remarks during a bipartisan meeting Sunday indicating a more aggressive U.S. policy may be in the works. The meeting with McCain, Graham and 13 other members of Congress took place at a Munich hotel.

Afterwards, the senators briefed three reporters about their off-the-record meeting with Kerry.

Al-Qaida’s presence is creating a threat that is growing “out of hand,” Kerry reportedly said.

“[Kerry] acknowledged that the chemical weapons [plan]is being slow-rolled, the Russians continue to supply arms, we are at a point now where we are going to have to change our strategy,” Graham said.

James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, told the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that Syria was becoming an al-Qaida haven and that Jabhat al-Nusra, its Syrian branch, wants to strike inside the United States.

Approximately 26,000 extremists tied to al-Qaida and its jihadist allies now are on Syrian soil, Clapper said. Thousands of foreign fighters including Europeans and some Americans have been attracted to the Syrian battlefield.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has been fighting rival jihadist factions, including al-Nusra and the Islamic Front, in recent weeks. The lslamic Front has been painted by some Western intellectuals as the “best hope” for defeating the ISIS despite its close cooperation with al-Nusra. It has an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 fighters under its control.

ISIS’s tactics have proven to be enough for al-Qaida, too. It announced Sunday in jihadi forums that the terrorist group’s general command had “no connection with the group.”

The U.S. has provided arms to the “moderate” Syrian rebels in larger amounts than ever before, The Telegraph reported last week.

“Our sources in the area confirmed that there are light arms coming in,” said Dan Layman, from the Syrian Support Group, a U.S.-based group that has been involved with providing “nonlethal” aid to the former Free Syrian Army, said.

“The amount of weapons is bigger than it has been before, and is having a significant effect on the offensive to push the regime out of the southern parts of the country and from the suburbs of Damascus.”

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki rejected McCain and Graham’s account, saying “at no point during the meeting did Secretary Kerry raise lethal assistance for the opposition.”

Rogin: A Split Between Kerry And The White House Does Exist

Senators: Kerry Suggested Arming Syrian Rebels | The Counter Jihad Report.

Fred Hiatt: Senators say John Kerry admitted U.S. failure in Syria – The Washington Post.