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Diplomats move on two fronts on Syria weapons

By Edith M. Lederer
Associated Press

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UNITED NATIONS: Key international players were moving on two diplomatic fronts Wednesday to try to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and a fresh effort appeared to be underway to get the government and opposition to peace talks.

The five veto-wielding members of the Security Council, who have been deeply divided over Syria, met late Wednesday to discuss what to include in a new resolution requiring that Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile be secured and dismantled. They later left Russia’s U.N. mission without commenting.

At the same time, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov were heading to Geneva with teams of experts for broader-ranging talks today about the nuts and bolts of putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and destroying them, diplomats said.

The U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, was also heading to Geneva to be available to meet Kerry and Lavrov, whose efforts to start peace talks to end the 2½-year Syrian conflict have been stymied by a government offensive and a deadly suspected poison gas attack on Aug. 21.

The diplomatic flurry follows the threat of U.S. strikes against President Bashar Assad’s regime and a surprise offer from Kerry that Syria could avert U.S. military action by turning over “every single bit of his chemical weapons” to international control within a week. Russia, Syria’s most important ally, and Assad’s government quickly agreed on the broad proposal, but details still need to be worked out.

A senior U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because contacts have been private, said today’s meeting between Kerry and Lavrov will be an exploratory session to gauge whether they can embark on “the herculean task” of dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons while the country is at war.

Major diplomatic effort

While serious differences have already emerged — especially on whether a U.N. resolution should be militarily enforceable as the United States and its Western allies are demanding — the diplomatic moves represent the first major effort in more than a year to try to get supporters of the Syrian government and opposition on the same page.

Russia and China have vetoed three Western-backed resolutions aimed at pressuring Assad to end the conflict, which has left the U.N.’s most powerful body paralyzed as the war escalates and the death toll surpasses 100,000. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this week called the council’s paralysis embarrassing.

“What the secretary-general has been pressing for is the Security Council to come to a united decision,” U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq said Wednesday. “It’s crucially important at this late stage of the war that they come together and take some action that can prevent both the problems regarding the use of chemical weapons and the wider problem of solving this conflict.”

Rebels feel abandoned

In Syria, meanwhile, opposition forces expressed dismay at Obama’s decision to seek a diplomatic path.

Many rebels who had held out hopes that U.S.-led strikes on President Bashar Assad’s government would help tip the scales as the two sides faced a deadly stalemate said America has indirectly given the embattled leader a second wind as a statesman negotiating with world powers.

“We’re on our own,” Mohammad Joud, an opposition fighter in the war-shattered northern city of Aleppo, said via Skype. “I always knew that, but thanks to Obama’s shameful conduct, others are waking up to this reality as well.”

Rebels who have been fighting for 2½ years to topple Assad say the United States has repeatedly reneged on promises to assist their rebellion, offering only rhetoric. In June, Obama announced he would provide lethal aid to the rebels, but so far none of that assistance has gotten to the opposition and the Syrian leader’s forces have gained the advantage.


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