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Obama ‘Red Line’

Tag Archives | Obama ‘Red Line’

Obama Welcomes U.S.-Russia Syria Chemical Weapons Plan

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President Barack Obama talks with Amb. Samantha Power in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Sept. 12, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

President Barack Obama talks with Amb. Samantha Power in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Sept. 12, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

US President Barack Obama has welcomed an agreement between the US and Russia under which Syria’s chemical weapons must be destroyed or removed by mid-2014 as an “important step”. But a White House statement cautioned that the US expected Syria “to live up to its public commitments”.  The US-Russian framework document stipulates that Syria must provide details of its stockpile within a week. If Syria fails to comply, the deal could be enforced by a UN resolution. China, France, the UK, the UN and Nato have all expressed satisfaction at the agreement.

In Beijing, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on Sunday that China “welcomes the general agreement between the US and Russia.” “This agreement will enable tensions in Syria to be eased,” he said. However, there has so far been no reaction from Damascus.

In the White House statement, President Obama said that the US-Russian deal “represents an important, concrete step toward the goal of moving Syria’s chemical weapons under international control so that they may ultimately be destroyed.”  However the president warned that while the US would continue working with Russia, the United Kingdom, France, the United Nations and others to ensure that destruction-or-removal process was verifiable, there would be “consequences should the Assad regime not comply with the framework.”

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John Kerry calls Syria Chemical Weapons talks ‘Constructive’

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Secretary of State John Kerry with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during testimony on U.S. military intervention in Syria before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington

Secretary of State John Kerry with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during testimony on U.S. military intervention in Syria before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in Washington

US Secretary of State John Kerry has described as “constructive” talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on securing Syria’s chemical weapons. The two men began a second day of talks in Geneva by meeting UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to discuss the wider issue of peace in Syria.

Talks between Mr. Kerry and Mr. Lavrov on the weapons issue began on Thursday and could continue over the weekend. Mr. Kerry said they were working hard to find “common ground.” The BBC’s Paul Adams in Geneva says this is a moment of diplomatic momentum over Syria that has not been seen for a couple of years and both parties want to make the most of that. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday called Damascus’s decision to join the Chemical Weapons Convention “an important step towards the resolution of the Syrian crisis” and said it showed the “serious intention” of President Bashar al-Assad “to follow this path.”

The leaders of Syria’s other key allies, China and Iran - meeting at a regional summit in Kyrgyzstan - also welcomed President Assad’s move. But Syrian rebels say it will not stop the killing. Free Syrian Army spokesperson Louay Moqdad told the BBC that Mr. Assad still had plenty of conventional weapons at his disposal and was attempting to “buy time” with the help of the Russians.

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Despite win for Diplomacy, Syria’s Offer Unlikely to Work

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A U.N. chemical weapons expert inspects samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack outside of Damascus on August 29, 2013. Mohamed Abdullah/Reuters

A U.N. chemical weapons expert inspects samples from one of the sites of an alleged chemical weapons attack outside of Damascus on August 29, 2013. Mohamed Abdullah/Reuters

Given the decades of denials about the existence of a chemical weapons program by the Assad regime, the West’s first inclination to Mr. Assad’s offer to come clean about Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, join the Chemical Weapons Convention, and turn the weapons over to international oversight for control and destruction is naturally to be skeptical. Only when backed into a corner, faced with the threat of overwhelming attack, and with no other feasible option at his disposal, is Mr. Assad agreeing to the proposal brokered by Russia. Yet there is good reason to believe that Mr. Assad is serious, and that he will do his part to make the decommissioning of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal a reality. But a number of things stand in the way of making this proposal meaningful.

First, the international community cannot be certain that it knows where all the weapons are. Mr. Assad has changed the location of part of his arsenal in recent weeks and months, and while these movements have been monitored - to the extent possible - by satellites, there is no real way for anyone outside the Syrian government to know exactly where all the weapons are. By all accounts, Mr. Assad possesses thousands of chemical agents, and the rockets to deliver them. So it is indeed a leap of faith to presume that a) Mr. Assad will declare every single agent, and b) that the international community will be able to detect every single agent. After all, chemical weapons are Mr. Assad’s real trump card and bargaining chip. Without them, he has no way to apply real leverage to his enemies and the international community.

Second, even if ‘all’ the agents are identified and the international community assumes control of them in the short term, it will take years to destroy them, and their destruction needs to be done on site. The weapons are too dangerous and too numerous to move, and the destruction of such weapons has never been done in a war zone. The idea of moving them is out of the question. So how can the destruction of the agents be done safely and securely in the middle of a war? The likely answer is that they cannot be destroyed with the kind of safety and security required to have any degree of confidence that a breach, accident, or sabotage may not occur. That is a problem.

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Syria Crisis: Barack Obama calls off Congress Vote

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President Barack Obama speaking from the White House on Syria

President Barack Obama speaking from the White House on Syria

US President Barack Obama has postponed a Congress vote on military action in Syria, vowing to pursue diplomacy to remove the regime’s chemical weapons. Damascus has admitted for the first time that it has chemical weapons, and has agreed to abide by a Russian plan to hand over its arsenal.

The US threatened strikes after a gas attack killed hundreds last month. Mr. Obama blames the regime and said the military would respond if talks failed. Syria blames rebels for the attack. More than 100,000 people have died since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in 2011.  The latest report by UN rights experts, released on Wednesday, says torture and rape are widespread and war crimes are being committed by both sides.  Russia announced the plan on Monday and Syria quickly responded, saying it “welcomed” the initiative. Late on Tuesday, Foreign Minister Walid Muallem then made the fullest public admission of the regime’s stockpile and a much clearer commitment to the Russian plan.

“We are ready to inform about the location of chemical weapons, halt the production of chemical weapons, and show these objects to representatives of Russia, other states and the United Nations,” he said. “Our adherence to the Russian initiative has a goal of halting the possession of all chemical weapons.”

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Obama’s Line in the Sand May Prove to be a Quagmire

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Secretary of State John Kerry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee

President Barrack Obama in making his case for a military strike against Syria stated that Bashar al-Assad had used deadly nerve agents against his people. Politicos around the world however are not convinced that the U.S. and UN inspectors have pinpointed exactly who used the chemical weapons last August in which over one thousand people died.

Congress is debating a resolution for limited strikes against the rogue regime. The Obama administration is “champing at the bit” to go after Assad without an endgame plan, or considering the collateral damage that could cause many people to die by errant missiles.  The Pentagon wants a three day window for bombing Syria to inflict punitive punishment, while the White House wants sixty days to use cruise missiles, with a possible thirty day extension. All of this spells out a broader conflict and possible retaliation against American interests. U.S. incursions in the past have drawn us into never-ending quagmires.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar may have their own agenda for ousting Assad, having armed opposition rebel groups and the al-Qaeda linked Jabhat al-Nusra Front. An article indicated that Assad stands in the way of a proposed major gas pipeline to Turkey from the Arab states. Russia which controls the European market doesn’t want the competition, hence supports the Assad regime, which opposes the pipeline project. France is a strong proponent of attacks against Assad, and would stand to benefit from this new source of natural gas.  The armed rebels and Islamists fighting the Syrian troops are executing their captives, and killing any civilians that stand in their way. U.S. Representative Mike Rogers from Michigan stated that in supporting the Syrian rebels he isn’t sure who is being armed—the good guys or bad guys.

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Russia Urges Syria: Give up Weapons

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Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.  Paulo Filgueiras/UN

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Paulo Filgueiras/UN

Russia has asked Syria to put its chemical weapons stockpiles under international control and then have them destroyed, in an attempt to avoid US military strikes. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the offer was made during talks with his Syrian counterpart, Walid Muallem, who welcomed the initiative. The US said it was sceptical, but would have a “hard look” at the plan.

The US accuses Damascus of war crimes, allegations denied by the regime. US Secretary of State John Kerry, in Europe to garner support for the military action, inadvertently started the talk of Syria giving up its chemical weapons early on Monday. When asked at a news conference whether there was anything Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could do to avoid military action, Kerry replied that he could hand over his entire stockpile of chemical weapons within the next week.

US officials subsequently clarified that John Kerry was making a “rhetorical argument” rather than a serious offer. However, Sergei Lavrov later revealed in a news conference that he had urged Muallem to “not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on their subsequent destruction.” He said he had also told Muallem that Syria should then fully join the Chemical Weapons Convention. Walid Muallem told reporters through an interpreter that Syria welcomed the initiative and praised Russia for “attempting to prevent American aggression against our people.”

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Punitive Strikes: “Russian Roulette” with Unintended Consequences

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President Barack Obama holds a press conference with Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, at Rosenbad in Stockholm, Sept. 4, 2013. Frank Augstein/AP

President Barack Obama holds a press conference with Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, at Rosenbad in Stockholm, Sept. 4, 2013. Frank Augstein/AP

Can it be assumed that Western governments are sincere that deterring the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons without overthrowing it is their main goal? “France is ready to punish those who took the infamous decision to gas innocent people” in Syria, French President Francois Hollande asserted recently. Can anyone be certain that a “punitive” operation will not end up in an inter-state war which could engulf the larger region? A decision of this magnitude poses three major problems.

The first is the legality of any “punitive” operation under international law. In the absence of a consensus in the United Nations Security Council, it seems that any military intervention will be undertaken most certainly without a UN mandate and be considered illegal under international law. It follows that the legal justification for intervention would more closely resemble the one used prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq than the 2011 intervention in Libya.

For want of UN support, the Americans and French emphasize the legitimacy of such an intervention and try to form the widest possible international coalition. Since the German and British governments have already opted out of being part of any such military intervention, the Arab League’s principled support and the participation of Arab or Muslim countries appears now an essential condition to provide a legal basis, at least for outside consumption.

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Syria’s Chemical Weapons: ‘Global Red Line Crossed - Kerry

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Secretary of State John Kerry walks through an honor guard as departs the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris, France on September 7, 2013

Secretary of State John Kerry walks through an honor guard as departs the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris, France on September 7, 2013

US Secretary of State John Kerry says he and Arab League foreign ministers have agreed that the Syrian president’s alleged use of chemical weapons had crossed a “global red line.” John Kerry, speaking in Paris, is in Europe to muster support for action against President Bashar al-Assad.

“Assad’s deplorable use of chemical weapons crosses an international, global red line,” he said.  The Arab countries are divided on the question of military strikes on Syria.  The BBC’s Hugh Schofield reports from Paris that some like Saudi Arabia and Qatar are in favour while others like Syria’s neighbours Jordan and Lebanon are far more cautious, worried about the conflict spreading across their borders.

The US accuses Bashar al-Assad’s forces of killing 1,429 people in a sarin gas attack on 21 August. Assad’s government blames the attack on rebels fighting to overthrow him in the country’s two-and-a-half-year civil war, which has claimed some 100,000 lives, according to UN estimates.

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Obama vs. Putin as G20 Meets in Syria’s Shadow

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Frenemies forever: Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin will clash over Syria at G20. Pete Souza/White House

Frenemies forever: Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin will clash over Syria at G20. Pete Souza/White House

The G20 begins today and whether this is the best or the worst of times depends on how important one considers Syria to be. Because the manoeuvring and diplomacy surrounding the increasingly vicious civil war – and the prospect of international intervention – is likely to consume a good deal of the oxygen in the environs of St Petersburg.  Oxygen that might otherwise have been spent on discussing other urgent issues. The founding raison d’être of the G20 was to bring together the leaders of the world’s largest economies for the purpose of managing and securing the global economic system, and the in-tray for those devoted to that task in 2013 is not light.

Growth, financial regulation, tax avoidance, public spending levels and development investment represent just a sampler of the urgent issues awaiting deliberation by those charged with keeping the global economy alive amid the rolling aftermath of the financial crisis.  But the summit also brings together several of the main players in the stand-off over Syria at the very moment that the United States is readying itself to deliver air strikes against the Assad regime.  So there’s no doubt that there will be intense wrangling over the geopolitics of the Levant. The only question is how thoroughly the spectre of Middle East conflict will subvert the original agenda.

Barack Obama goes into the gathering publicly committed to military action, but uncertain of the necessary support for it either at home or abroad. Having drawn a “red line” – perhaps deliberately, perhaps with inadvertent firmness – against the use of chemical weapons by the Assad government, he now argues that the credibility of the US, and of the international community’s prohibition of the use of poison gas, is on the line.  He is committed to a campaign of limited military strikes, with the intent of sending “a shot across the bow” of the Assad regime.  At home, his administration is engaged in a frantic effort to shore up Congressional support since his unexpected decision to consult the legislature before taking action. This has shown some tentative but erratic signs of bearing fruit.

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Obama Wins on Syria

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President Barack Obama, flanked by House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the Cabinet Room of the White House. Photo: Carolyn Kaster

President Barack Obama, flanked by House Speaker John Boehner and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in the Cabinet Room of the White House. Photo: Carolyn Kaster

Foreign policy hawks, conservatives, Obama-haters and those opposed to a thoughtful approach to U.S. foreign policy are all surely disappointed, if not upset, that President Obama has chosen not to adopt a George W. Bush approach to foreign policy and jump into the Syrian conflict with guns blazing. Many from these groups have called the president’s decision to rope Congress into the decision making process impotent, lacking forcefulness and direction, or making America look weak. I disagree. What the president has done is the opposite of all those things.

Whatever happens next — whether Congress approves or disapproves of a military strike on Syria — the President wins by having resisted the urge to rush into a decision and by ensuring that Congress owns the next step.  A variety of U.S. allies — in the Middle East and elsewhere — may have been disappointed by this approach, but I say to them “too bad.” Perhaps it is they who are the things the president’s critics accuse him of. If France, Turkey or another country want to criticize the U.S. if it chooses not to attack Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons on August 21st, let them act unilaterally.

Of course, they will not. They look to America to take the lead — whether in Afghanistan or Kosovo. Some of America’s allies in the region are ill at ease with the recent turn of events. Well, the U.S. is ill at ease about what is going on in their neighborhood. What are they doing about it — apart from taking sides and fanning the flames?

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Avoiding an Apocalyptic War in Syria

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Syrian soldiers in the Damascus suburb of Jouber in Syria on 24 August 2013. EPA/STR

Syrian soldiers in the Damascus suburb of Jouber in Syria on 24 August 2013. EPA/STR

A probable US military strike against Syria has raised serious concerns about its consequences on the political and religious hegemony of the Middle East. As the Syrian Civil War continues, thousands of Salafi-Jihadists from all over the world have been rushing to Syria to establish an Islamic state as the first step to founding a universal caliphate. On the other hand, Alawites who are the ruling minority in Syria are a sect in Shia Islam, and the Syrian government is the closest Arab ally of Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Such political complications have led to a major conflict of interest in Syria between Shia and Sunni countries with their long history of sectarian conflict. However, unlike Shia-Sunni rivalry in Iraq, there are deeper apocalyptic motives behind the ongoing religious war in Syria that makes it more dangerous than any other war in which US has ever been involved.

Jabhat al-Nusra or Nusra Front is the most popular and powerful militant group among the Syrian rebels. Driven by the salafi-jihadist ideology of al-Qaeda, al-Nusra’s goal is the establishment of a caliphate in the Levant, or bilad as-Sham which consists of Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the West Bank, Israel, Gaza, and even some parts of Iraq and Turkey. Such an ambitious plan to establish the caliphate in the whole region has attracted many Salafis from around the world, even from Western countries, to join jihad against the Syrian government as recently emphasized by retiring FBI Director, Robert Mueller. There is no doubt that any US military strike against the Assad regime will benefit al-Nusra Front who has proven to be the most brutal Islamist jihadist organization, and obviously, an enemy of the United States and its allies.

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A Dangerous Game: Israel, Syria and U.S. Air Strikes

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Watchful: Israel faces Syria across the Golan Heights. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Watchful: Israel faces Syria across the Golan Heights. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Times of Israel reacted strongly on Friday to the UK’s vote against joining America in punitive air strikes against Syria’s Assad regime: “Perfidious Albion hands murderous Assad a spectacular victory” thundered one headline, denouncing what founding editor David Horovitz called a “perfect storm of political ineptitude, short-sighted expediency, and gutlessness”.

Elsewhere, as speculation of the form and timing of a possible US military intervention in Syria gathered pace, editorials talked up the moral rectitude of action against Syria while at the same time cautioning readers about the dangers this posed to Israel’s security as emphasised by a comment from Syria that: “If Damascus is attacked, Tel Aviv will burn.”

“There can be no passivity when a coterie of evil powers hurls deadly threats at Israel in the context of a struggle in which it is uninvolved,” opined the Jerusalem Post.

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Kerry: Syria Attack Killed 1,429

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John Kerry

US Secretary of State John Kerry says the US knows the Assad regime was behind the chemical attack in Damascus, which he says killed 1,429 people. Kerry said the dead included 426 children, and described the attack as an “inconceivable horror”.  The US says it will continue to seek a coalition, and President Barack Obama is meeting his national security team. The government of President Bashar al-Assad has denied carrying out the attack and blames rebel forces.

Syria’s War Clouds

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Syria's UN Ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, speaks to the press regarding the latest allegations of chemical weapons use and the possibility of military action against Syria.  Mark Garten/UN

Syria’s UN Ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, speaks to the press regarding the latest allegations of chemical weapons use and the possibility of military action against Syria. Mark Garten/UN

With the Western powers possibly preparing to attack Syria on the grounds of Assad’s allege use of chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus, the on-going crisis has acquired a dangerous turn with the both sides sticking to their respective positions. But peaceful negotiation to this crisis is the only option available to avoid an escalation of tensions in the region.

Amidst accusations by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that Syria has been destroying evidence of its chemical weapons shelling near Damascus, Western powers have stepped up their military build-up around Syria despite bitter opposition from Russia and Iran. As The Guardian reports, “warplanes and military transporters” were reportedly moved to Britain’s Akrotiri airbase in Cyprus, which is less than 160 kms from Syria. This has been confirmed by a top official, U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel who told the BBC that American forces are “ready” to launch strikes on Syria if President Obama approves limited airstrikes. “We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfil and comply with whatever option the President wishes to take.”

Along the same, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dimpsey, held a meeting in Amman with the top military officials from ten Western and West Asian nations to discuss possible military action in Syria. Further, these meetings follow a report by Reuters that the U.S. Navy was expanding its footprint in the Mediterranean by deploying a fourth ship that is capable of launching long-range cruise missiles that would bring Syria within their strike range.

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Syria’s Chemical Weapons: Who, What, Where, When, Why?

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UN inspectors will face several problems determining what happened in Damascus. EPA/STR

UN inspectors will face several problems determining what happened in Damascus. EPA/STR

It’s been a little more than a week since reports surfaced of a large-scale chemical weapon attack in Syria. Governments in Europe and the United States have accused the Syrian government of attacking their own people, while the Assad government has pointed the finger at its opponents.  The United Nations currently has inspectors in Damascus, who have been tasked with finding out if chemical weapons were used and, if so, by whom.

It’s not a simple matter to decide if a chemical attack has occurred. The inspectors will be looking for evidence to support or refute one of several possibilities: A non chemical cause, such as mass hysteria.  A chemical cause not related to chemical weapons.  An attack using chemical weapons, but an improvised delivery system.  A military chemical weapons attack using artillery or bombs.

In media interviews, former weapons inspectors have said that the symptoms are in line with a nerve agent such as sarin rather than the effects of a blistering agents such as sulphur mustard.

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