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Geneva Talks Begin Today. The Business Insider dubbed it the “U.S. Meeting With Russia To Make Sure This ‘Disarm Syria’ Thing Isn’t A Joke.” The United States will insist that Syria take rapid steps to show it is serious about abandoning its vast chemical arsenal, senior U.S. officials told Reuters. “Among the first steps Washington wants, one U.S. official said, is for the government of Bashar al-Assad to quickly make a complete, public declaration of its chemical weapons stockpiles as a prelude to inspecting and neutralizing them,” Reuters wrote.
From there, the task gets more complicated. A swarm of analysts, including CIA veterans, are saying it’s a long and hard road to dismantling Syria’s chemical weapons. The U.S. is moving forward, unfazed. One official told the Washington Post the task is “doable but difficult.” Secretary of State John Kerry told us in a Google Hangout that the regime retains control of its chemical stockpile, in regime-held areas. Ergo, the handover would be achievable.
Russia Rising in Influence, Playing Offense on Syria. Moscow is seizing the momentum and the narrative of the Syria crisis. President Vladimir Putin’s oped in the New York Times, directly addressing the American public, is being received as a public relations coup. The Times’ Bill Keller compared the U.S.-Russian rivalry to Playing Chess with Putin – a game where Russians have the advantage.
“[Putin] has recast Russia – whose military helped the Assad dynasty create its chemical weapons program in the first place – as the global peacemaker,” he wrote.
What’s driving Russia’s tactical change on Syria? Analysts say it was the threat of U.S. strike – specifically, the chance to claim a Russian victory, by stopping it from happening. The real test is whether it will produce a real chance for peace in Syria.
UN Inspectors Will Point to Assad Next Week, Foreign Policy reports. Citing a senior Western official, FP says evidence collected by UN team sent to investigate the August 21 chemical attack on Al Ghouta “will provide a strong circumstantial case—based on an examination of spent rocket casings, ammunition, and laboratory tests of soil, blood, and urine samples—that points strongly in the direction of Syrian government culpability.” It also says the report will be released on Monday.
If all that is true it will add pressure on Russia and Syria to deliver on diplomatic negotiations. Other forms of leverage, like the prospect of a U.S. strike, are fading. The Obama administration has said the prospect of military action is still on the table and must remain a credible threat, but recall that the U.S. Senate vote to authorize a Syria strike is on hold, possibly for good.
The War Rages, As Rebels Get Their Guns. The CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, the Washington Post reports, citing U.S. officials. The Free Syrian Army says they’re still waiting for the weapons to arrive.
They would come months after President Obama promised to arm what it sees as the moderate forces of the Free Syrian Army—a move to boost its capacity against the Assad regime and Al Qaeda linked groups in Syria. The Free Syrian Army, a decentralized network of brigades fighting the Assad regime, have criticized Washington for calling on Assad to step down, without doing enough to help them make it happen. One moderate brigade told Syria Deeply they have no money for ammunition and will be out of food within a month. In contrast, Al Qaeda linked groups have been well funded and well armed, helping them gain ground on the battlefield.
All of this, of course, points to continued fighting in Syria. On Wednesday, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon admitted it wasthe UN’s collective failure to stop the atrocities of Syria’s war. Time Magazine reports that Assad may be losing control over his own deadly militias, as Syrians complain to us that a culture of warlords is rising in their country.
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