News, Views and Reviews: Sid Harth
The U.S. will give talks with Russia “several weeks” for a plan to eliminate the Assad regime’s chemical weapons, and acknowledged that a U.N. resolution wouldn’t threaten force.
United Nations-Arab League special envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, center, speaks on Friday during a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, left, and Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, right.
Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
GENEVA—The Obama administration took two steps back from its push for urgent military action in Syria, giving talks with Russia “several weeks” to produce a road map on eliminating the Assad regime’s chemical weapons, and acknowledging that a United Nations resolution wouldn’t threaten force.
Diplomats made clear that prospects for a larger deal, known as Geneva 2, depend on the outcome of talks under way this week over Syria’s chemical weapons and on whether warring parties in Syria are able to negotiate.
A meeting between Russian and U.S. officials on the larger government transition talks will take place late this month, when world leaders gather in New York for the United Nations General Assembly meeting, Secretary of State John Kerry said in Geneva.
“President Obama is deeply committed to a negotiated solution with respect to Syria, and we know that Russia is likewise,” Mr. Kerry said, appearing briefly at the U.N.’s offices in Geneva with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov and the U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.
“We are working hard to find the common ground to be able to make that happen and we discussed some of the homework that we both need to do,” he said. “I’m not going to go into it in any detail today. We both agreed to do that homework and meet again in New York.”
He added that any peace conference would depend on the outcome of the chemical weapons talks over the next several hours and days.
The arms talks are addressing a proposal by Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, that the Syrian government turn over its chemical weapons and sign on to the international chemical-weapons ban.
The proposal was seen as a way to avert a possible U.S. military strike after Washington determined that the Syrian government was responsible for a chemical attack outside Damascus on Aug. 21.
Russia and Syria have said rebels were responsible for the attack.
All sides have been awaiting a report of findings from U.N. inspectors whovisited sites of the attack last month.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in an unscripted remark on Friday that the inspectors had concluded that chemical weapons had been used, and that Mr. Assad was responsible for crimes against humanity.
But Mr. Ban’s spokesman, Farhan Haq, confirming the remarks, later said Mr. Ban had not seen the report, which was still being written, and wouldn’t have an evaluation until he does.
Mr. Haq also said Mr. Ban’s remark about crimes against humanity shouldn’t be linked to his remark about findings of chemical-weapons use.
Mr. Ban made the remarks during a question-and-answer session following a U.N. meeting on women’s rights.
The inspectors’ findings are expected to be released as soon as Monday, according to a Western diplomat.
Syria sent a letter to Mr. Ban this week announcing Damascus’s decision to join the Chemical Weapon Convention—the 1997 treaty banning the production and use of chemical weapons.
Mr. Brahimi said that the chemical weapons effort, which was continuing Friday, “is extremely important in itself and for itself, but it is also extremely important” for the broader peace process.
The peace conference, begun in 2012, has dragged. Messrs. Kerry and Lavrov agreed earlier this year to rekindle it, but little has happened.
“It is very unfortunate that for a long period the Geneva communiqué was basically abandoned and we were not able to have endorsement of this very important document in the Security Council, as is as adopted,” Mr. Lavrov said Friday.
Part of the delay is due to the difficulty of bringing the Syrian government and a splintered opposition to the table. Mr. Kerry spoke Thursday with the Syrian Opposition Coalition president and the head of the rebels’ Supreme Military Council.
–Joe Lauria at the United Nations contributed to this article.
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…and I am Sid Harth