Kerry Rejects Syria’s Chemical Weapon Offer
GENEVA (AP) – Secretary of State John Kerry opened swiftly convened talks with Russia on Syria’s chemical weapons Thursday by rejecting a Syrian pledge to begin a “standard process” by turning over information rather than weapons – and nothing immediately.
That won’t do, Kerry declared at an opening press conference, a stone-faced Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at his side. “The words of the Syrian regime in our judgment are simply not enough.”
“This is not a game,” Kerry said of the latest developments in a series that has rapidly gone from deadly chemical attacks to threats of retaliatory U.S. air strikes to Syrian agreement with a Russian plan to turn over the weapons and, finally, to the crucial matter of working out the difficult details.
“We believe there is nothing standard about this process at this moment because of the way the regime has behaved,” Kerry declared. And he kept alive the threat of U.S. military action, saying the turnover of weapons must be complete, verifiable and timely – “and finally, there ought to be consequences if it doesn’t take place.”
Adding to the drama, Russian President Vladimir Putin weighed in from afar, raising eyebrows with an opinion piece in The New York Times that chided Americans for seeing themselves as “exceptional.” That was an apparent reference to a comment President Barack Obama made in his Syria speech Tuesday night, explaining why he felt the U.S. needed to take action. Congress has shown little inclination to authorize military action, and a vote on that has been put off.
Putin also warned that a U.S. strike against Syria because of chemical weapons use could unleash new terrorist attacks. And he still maintained there is “every reason to believe” the weapons were used by rebels and not by Assad’s military. In Washington, Obama’s spokesman said Russia was “isolated and alone” in that view.
Obama, for his part, said simply that he was hoping for “a concrete result” from the talks.
Even as diplomacy took center stage, word surfaced that the CIA has been delivering light machine guns and other small arms to Syrian rebels for several weeks, following Obama’s statement in June that he would provide lethal aid to the rebels.