Syria Signs Chemical Weapons Treaty; US Exaggerates Death Toll; Kerry Slams Peaceful Settlement, Hints at War

September 13th, 2013 - by admin

Jason Ditz / & Mark Hosenball / Reuters – 2013-09-13 01:24:21

Syria Ratifies Chemical Weapons Ban

Syria Ratifies Chemical Weapons Ban
Jason Ditz /

(September 12, 2013) — Following hot on the heels of comments by President Bashar Assad backing the idea, the Syrian government has formally ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), obliging them to end production of chemical weapons and move toward their eventual destruction.

Syria was one of seven remaining nations on the planet that haven’t ratified the treaty, and the list will now only include six: Israel, Myanmar, Angola, Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan.

The United Nations has confirmed receipt of the documents verifying Syria’s ratification of the CWC, and Assad has indicated that he intends to have a full list of his nation’s arsenal available for the UN within 30 days.

The 30 days is a specific requirement of the CWC, though Secretary of State John Kerry has angrily rejected it as unacceptable, and has suggested the US might attack Syria if they stick to the actual terms of the deal.

The declarations are to be made to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the deadline is 30 days after the ban enters into force, and while it is unclear if that means today, when the ban was officially ratified by the government, or after the documents are processed. Assad’s comments suggest he is treating the 30 days as starting today, however.

The process of destroying Syria’s chemical arms is expected to take years, and potentially even decades, though a better estimate will likely emerge once the data is released and the scope of Syria’s program becomes apparent.

In his comments, Assad expressed hope that the deal would mean an end to US threats to attack Syria, though the Obama Administration, and John Kerry in particular, continues to talk up the “military option.”

Assad: Syria to Give Up Control of Chemical Arms
Jason Ditz /

(September 12, 2013) — After facing down a rival French plan that included a UN authorization for military action against Syria, the tide seems to be turning decisively in favor of the Russian version, with Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Obama Administration both throwing support behind it.

Hours later, Syria confirmed that it has now ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention obliging them to renounce use of the weapons and move toward their dismantlement.

Assad is said to have given an interview to Russian television announcing his intention to cede control of the arms to the international community. He will reportedly endorse the Russian plan, and say that it was Russia’s efforts, not US threats, that led to his decision.

Other Syrian officials, notably Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, have already backed the plan, but this is the first time Assad will have directly commented on the matter.

The US is also going into Geneva talks with Russia with a more positive attitude today, saying the Russian plan is “doable but difficult.”

While no one would dispute the idea that any chemical weapons disarmament is difficult (the United States has been trying to dispose of its own for almost 50 years now and still isn’t done), the big do-ability question of Russia’s plan had been whether the US would go along, since it is predicated on the US stopping their threats to attack Syria, at least for the time being.

At this point everybody on board with the deal, except of course the Syrian rebels, who don’t do diplomacy. Gen. Idriss, the head of the US-backed Free Syrian Army, says any disarmament plan must be rejected in favor of a US attack on Syria.

Exclusive: US Total of Syrian Gas Deaths Could Include Bomb Casualties — Sources
Mark Hosenball / Reuters

WASHINGTON (September 12, 2013) — One of the most precise and dramatic details cited by the Obama administration as proof that Syrian forces used chemical weapons in an August 21 attack was the death toll, which an official US government assessment put at 1,429 people, including 426 children.

The number, first released by the White House on August 30, was underscored by Secretary of State John Kerry in a fiery indictment of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, describing videos of what he said were victims of the attack, which Syria denies.

“Instead of being tucked safely in their beds at home, we saw rows of children lying side by side sprawled on a hospital floor, all of them dead from Assad’s gas and surrounded by parents and grandparents who had suffered the same fate. The United States Government now knows that at least 1,429 Syrians were killed in this attack, including at least 426 children,” he said.

Some US congressional sources are now casting doubt on those figures.

Three congressional sources told Reuters that administration officials had indicated in private that some deaths might have been caused by the conventional bombing that followed the release of sarin gas in suburban Damascus neighborhoods. This disclosure undermined support for President Barack Obama’s plan to strike Syria, they said.

A White House spokeswoman referred all questions about the death toll numbers — including a request for comment on whether controversy about the numbers was undermining support on Capitol Hill for administration policy — to intelligence agency spokespeople.

“The Intelligence Community has a high bar for its assessments but it is virtually impossible to achieve 100 percent certitude,” said Shawn Turner, chief spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. “That’s not the way intelligence works.

“We are extremely rigorous in our methodology and we are constantly challenging ourselves to be more exacting,” said Turner. “We have been thorough in our discussions with Congress about our methodology and I’m not aware of any concerns.”

One of the congressional sources said that administration officials in closed door briefings said they could not rule out that some victims included in the US death toll were killed either by conventional explosive parts of rockets which carried poison gas or in the artillery barrage the United States says followed the gas attack.

A second source, who is sympathetic to White House policy, said caveats administration officials attached to the 1,429 death total were of sufficient magnitude to cause the source to avoid citing the figure.

A third source said that administration officials confronted pointed questions from members of Congress about the accuracy of the numbers and acknowledged that they “couldn’t be sure” about the cause of death for some people counted as victims of chemical poisoning.

An administration official familiar with the briefings denied that there had been any doubts as to how the 1,429 bodies were counted; a second official asserted that Capitol Hill officials had heard what they wanted to hear because so many legislators were opposed to Obama’s plan.

Administration sources told Reuters that they relied on a valid intelligence methodology to make the death estimate. An official said that it involved analyzing video pictures of victims, then eliminating from the fatality total any live person, any dead body with visible injuries and shrouded bodies showing blood spots.

Classified intelligence tools then were used to confirm the provenance of the videos and to ensure that bodies were not counted twice, the official said. The official noted that US intelligence had more resources to gather information than human rights or other non-governmental groups, which had smaller death tolls.

“Nobody who has looked at the intelligence thinks this number is way off,” a senior US official said.

“That’s what the number was that day. We know 1,400 people were killed. As we get new information, the number could change,” the senior US official added.

French intelligence says deaths from the gas attacks could be as high as 1,500, but it reported confirmed deaths from video evidence of 281. Estimates of gas attack deaths by British intelligence, the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and non-governmental group Doctors without Borders fall within a range of 322 to 355.

The congressional sources said that some members of Congress asked to see raw intelligence gathered by US agencies. But thus far, the administration has provided only reports summarizing intelligence from human informants, electronic eavesdropping and satellite images.

The Syrian government has denied launching any gas attack, although it has acknowledged it has such weapons and is in talks to give them up.

The United States first cited the 1,429 death toll in a four-page document released by the White House, calling it a “preliminary assessment.” Administration officials said that estimate was based on intelligence analysis and never meant to be fixed in stone. Moreover, they expect the ultimate toll will be higher.

In recent days, the administration has avoided the precise figures of the early days.

On September 9, White House National Security Advisor Susan Rice also rounded down the figures, saying that “more than 1400” were killed, including “more than 400 children.”

In his speech to the nation on Tuesday night, Obama said that Assad’s forces had “gassed to death over 1,000 people, including hundreds of children.”

A White House official called it a “stylistic thing”. “It’s accurate and not meant to signal any walking away from the assessment’s figure,” the person said.

Paul Pillar, formerly the top Middle East expert for US intelligence, told Reuters the United States should have rounded the figures from the start.

“The administration did not help its case by providing a number that misleadingly implied a degree of precision that would be nearly impossible to achieve amid a civil war,” he said.

(Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Editing by Marilyn W. Thompson, Peter Henderson and Tim Dobbyn)

(c) Thomson Reuters 2011. All rights reserved.

Kerry Slams Syria Deal,
Pushes Idea of Attacking

Jason Ditz /

(September 12, 2013) — Syria has ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and promised to move forward with a plan within 30 days on the destruction of its chemical arsenal, which will be placed under international control for the duration of its (likely long) process of dismantling them.

Instead of treating the deal as a movie-style happy ending, Secretary of State John Kerry is grousing about the war it has apparently foiled, lashing the deal as “not enough” while pushing the idea that the US might still attack Syria unilaterally in spite of the deal, seemingly just for the heck of it.

Kerry says President Assad’s agreement to the standard international process of dismantling chemical weapons is totally unacceptable because Syria “isn’t standard,” and insists that the US attack could still happen if Assad doesn’t agree to some totally unspecified, less realistic timetable.

The 30 days isn’t something Assad just made up, either, but actually an explicit part of the CWC, just one that annoys Kerry personally, since after several weeks of pushing for a war based on a putative violation of “international norms,” he insists the norms don’t apply to Syria anyhow.

Though some analysts are presenting this as Kerry “testing” the seriousness of the deal in talks with Russia, it is reading more as an attempt to sabotage it outright. With Kerry the primary proponent of the hugely unpopular war that now isn’t happening, the chip on his shoulder and his decision to spurn diplomacy just read like sour grapes.

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