Russian prestige on the line
Sep 11, 2013 / 8:52 pm
The White House tried Wednesday to pin the success or failure of a diplomatic option to secure Syria's chemical weapons on Russia rather than the United States as Secretary of State John Kerry headed for Geneva to work on a Russian proposal for international inspectors to seize and destroy the deadly stockpile.
On a different diplomatic front aimed at taking control of the stockpile away from the Assad government, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council met Wednesday at Russia's U.N. mission to consider goals for a new resolution requiring Syria's chemical weapons to be dismantled. They left without commenting, but whether a U.N. resolution should be militarily enforceable was already emerging as a point of contention.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in an opinion piece for The New York Times, called for caution in dealing with Syria, saying that a potential strike by the U.S. would create more victims and could spread the conflict beyond Syria as well as "unleash a new wave of terrorism."
Rebels who had hoped U.S.-led strikes against the Syrian government would aid their effort expressed disappointment, if not condemnation of the U.S., over President Barack Obama's decision to pursue diplomacy in the wake of a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs last month that the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people.
"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."
With the American public focus on diplomacy rather than military might, Vice-President Joe Biden and senior White House officials summoned House Democrats and Republicans for classified briefings. The sessions followed up Obama's nationally televised address Tuesday night in which he kept the threat of U.S. airstrikes on the table and said it was too early to say whether the Russian offer would succeed.
White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to put a deadline on diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff but said that bringing Syria's chemical weapons stockpile under international control "obviously will take some time."
"Russia is now putting its prestige on the line," he said. Asked whether U.S. prestige also was on the line, Carney said: "The United States leads in these situations. And it's not always popular and it's not always comfortable."
On Capitol Hill, action on any resolution authorizing U.S. military intervention in Syria was on hold, even an alternative that would have reflected Russia's diplomatic offer. Senators instead debated an energy bill.
"The whole terrain has changed," Sen. Dick Durbin told reporters after a meeting of Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We want to make sure we do nothing that's going to derail what's going on."
That didn't stop Republicans from announcing their opposition to Obama's initial call for military strikes and criticizing the commander in chief. Sen. Deb Fischer who had attended a Sunday night dinner with Obama and Biden, accused the president of engaging in "pinball diplomacy."
"Unfortunately, what we've seen from the commander in chief so far has been indecision, verbal gymnastics and a reluctance to step up and lead," Fischer said in a statement.
Sen. John McCain an outspoken advocate of aggressive U.S. military intervention for months, said he was concerned that the Russian plan could be a "rope-a-dope" delaying tactic while "that the slaughter goes on."
Kerry was to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday. At the same time, Obama said the United States and its allies would work with Russia and China to present a resolution to the U.N. Security Council requiring Syrian President Bashar Assad to give up his chemical weapons and ultimately destroy them.
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