US 'Red-line' Claim against Syria Meets Widespread Criticism
June 15, 2013 The Washington Post & Bloomberg & War News Updates & BBC
Obama administration claims that Syria has used chemical weapons against rebels encountered skepticism Friday at the United Nations, where the UN secretary general and the Russian ambassador said the evidence falls short of definitive proof. Syria has dismissed as "a caravan of lies" claims that it used chemical weapons, after the US said it would give the rebels "direct military aid."
US Claims of Chemical Weapons against Syrian Rebels Meet Caution at UN Colum Lynch / The Washington Post
UNITED NATIONS (June 14, 20103) -- Obama administration claims that Syria has used chemical weapons against rebels encountered skepticism Friday at the United Nations, where the UN secretary general and the Russian ambassador said the evidence falls short of definitive proof.
Speaking to reporters at UN headquarters, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appeared to break ranks with Washington, warning against a rush to arm the Syrian rebels over assertions that government forces used chemical weapons.
"There is no military solution to this conflict, even if both the government and the opposition, and their supporters, think there can be,” he said. "The military path points directly towards the disintegration of the country.”
The administration said its conclusion, based on analysis of evidence gathered by several countries, led to a decision to begin supplying weapons to the rebels.
Ban said he appreciated the willingness of the United States, Britain, France and other governments to provide evidence to a UN team investigating the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. But he cautioned that "any information on the alleged use of chemical weapons cannot be ensured without convincing evidence of the chain of custody.”
The secretary general said collecting the necessary proof would require the Syrian government to permit the UN chemical weapons team access to suspected sites inside the country. So far, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has refused the unlimited access sought by the UN team.
The Russian response was chillier. Speaking hours after the White House announcement Thursday, President Vladimir Putin said he had doubts that chemical weapons had been used.
On Friday, Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, continued the theme. "The contacts we have with American experts did not convince our experts that, in fact, the information which was presented was convincing enough to come to a definitive conclusion that government forces used chemical weapons,” he said.
US officials have said that they expected Russia's fears over Assad's use of chemical weapons would weaken Putin's support for the Syrian leader and provide momentum for the stalled effort to hold a peace conference next month in Geneva.
Instead, the responses from Ban and the Russians demonstrated the challenge the United States, Britain and France face in persuading the world that Syria has used chemical weapons. Analysts here suggest that the effort is more difficult because of the false claims about weapons of mass destruction used by the United States and Britain to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
To buttress its claims, the Obama administration provided Ban with what it said was evidence that Assad has used chemical weapons against the opposition.
Susan E. Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said she presented Ban with a letter that "outlined additional information that we think could contribute” to the UN's understanding of the Syrian situation if inspectors are allowed into the country.
(June 14, 2013) -- Russia doesn't believe US claims that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's forces have used chemical weapons in his country's two-year-old civil war, President Vladimir Putin's foreign policy aide said.
The information provided to Russia by the US to back up its assertion is "unconvincing,” Yuri Ushakov told reporters in Moscow today.
The US will supply small arms and ammunition to the Syrian opposition amid recent battlefield setbacks by rebels and after saying it confirmed that Assad's forces used chemical weapons, according to a US official familiar with the decision.
Syria has been embroiled in a conflict since March 2011 that's evolved into civil war and spilled over Syria's borders in recent months. The United Nations said yesterday that at least 93,000 people have been killed and that the real number is "potentially much higher.”
Russia and the US have proposed holding an international peace conference on Syria next month in Geneva. The initiative will be in doubt if the Obama administration "hardens” its stance on the conflict and arms the rebels, Ushakov said.
Russia won't respond to the US move by lifting a freeze on the supply of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, the presidential foreign-policy adviser said. "We're not in competition over Syria,” he said.
Putin said June 4 that his country hadn't delivered the missiles to Syria to avoid upsetting the regional balance of power.
Israel asked Russia to at least suspend the sale "until the situation in Syria clears up,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Zeev Elkin said yesterday. The weapons are capable of shooting down any civilian or military aircraft in Israel, according to Elkin.
Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror told European Union ambassadors his country would prevent the missiles from becoming operational on Syrian soil if delivered, Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported last month.
To contact the reporters on this story: Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at firstname.lastname@example.org; Henry Meyer in Moscow at email@example.com Syria And Russia Condemn US Claims Of Chemical Weapons Use War News Updates
Russian Media on US Position State-controlled Channel One:
"One cannot but notice the unusual, not to say strange, format of the statement. First, it was a telephone conference. Second, Mr [Ben] Rhodes is a deputy national security adviser for strategic communications for the US president; he is of course across the subject, but his rank is rather low for such strong statements."
Rossiya 1 TV:
"One is instantly reminded of the well-known story with the vial with crushed chalk that Colin Powell presented as evidence of chemical weapons in Iraq. It is also interesting that the White House's statement came after Syrian rebels began suffering one defeat after another."
DAMASCUS (June 14, 2013) -- Syria has dismissed as "a caravan of lies" claims that it used chemical weapons, after the US said it would give the rebels "direct military aid".
President Barack Obama's decision came after the White House said it had clear evidence of government forces carrying out small-scale chemical attacks.
Rebel commander Gen Salim Idris told the BBC it was a "very important step." But Syria's foreign ministry said the US had used "fabricated information" on chemical weapons to justify the move.
Washington was resorting to "cheap tactics" to justify Mr Obama's decision to arm the rebels, a statement from the ministry added.
On the ground, there were reports of the fiercest fighting in months in Aleppo. Earlier this week, Syrian media said President Bashar al-Assad's government was planning a major military offensive on the northern city.
Two years of conflict had killed at least 93,000 people, the UN said on Thursday, at a current rate of 5,000 people a month. More than 1,700 children under the age of 10 were among the dead.
Mr Obama's Deputy National Security Adviser, Ben Rhodes, said the president had made the decision to increase assistance, including "military support", to the rebels' Supreme Military Council (SMC), which includes the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
The US was "comfortable" working with Gen Idris, the head of the SMC, and aimed to isolate some of the more extremist elements of the opposition, such as Sunni militant group al-Nusra, he added.
Mr Rhodes did not give details about the military aid, other than to say it would be "different in scope and scale to what we have provided before".
Until now, the US has limited its help to rebel forces by providing rations and medical supplies.
Administration officials have been quoted by US media as saying it is most likely to include sending small arms and ammunition. The New York Times quoted officials as saying Washington could provide anti-tank weapons.
The CIA is expected to co-ordinate delivery of the military equipment and train the rebel soldiers in how to use it. It is already believed to have co-ordinated covert shipments of weapons to the rebels by US allies in the region, and helped decide which groups would receive the arms.
Republican Senator John McCain, who has been outspoken in calls for arming the rebels, said he did not know to which type of arms the term "military aid" referred, but that he hoped for anti-tank weapons.
He said his greatest concern was the conflict "spiralling out of control because of a failure of American leadership".
Republican Congressman Tom Rooney, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told the BBC that he feared Washington was succumbing to dangerous "mission creep" over Syria.
"Are we going to war with Assad in a more affirmative way, or are we just helping who we believe the rebels are to the extent that we have no control whatsoever on the outcome?" he asked.
In a BBC interview on Friday, Gen Idris said new weapons would help the rebels defeat the Assad regime and defend civilians.
"We are in most need for anti-tank missiles and anti-aircraft missiles and in addition to all of that we need a huge amount of weapons and ammunition to stop the offensive of the regime," he added.
Prime Minister David Cameron said he shared the US view that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons, but that the UK had not yet decided whether to arm the rebels.
He told the BBC that engaging with "moderate" rebel groups - by working with them and providing training as well as technical assistance - helped limit the influence of more extremist fighters.
Mr Cameron later discussed the situation in Syria in an hour-long video conference with Mr Obama, French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta.
The US intelligence community believed Syrian government forces had used chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, on a small scale against the opposition on several occasions in the past year, said Mr Rhodes, adding that he estimated as many as 150 people had died in the attacks.
Washington's "clear" statement was welcomed by Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who urged Syria to let the UN "investigate all reports of chemical weapons use".
The US announcement is one the Syrian opposition has been pushing and praying for for months, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut.
It seems clear Mr Obama has finally been persuaded, as Britain and France have argued, that the battlefield cannot be allowed to tilt strongly in the regime's favour, as is currently happening, our correspondent adds.
Moscow said Washington's supposed evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria did "not look convincing".
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman told the BBC he remained against "any further militarisation" of the conflict in Syria, saying the people there needed peace, not more weapons.
The support of the West's regional allies, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, had helped the rebels in the days after the uprising became militarised.
But the tide turned after the Syrian government turned to Moscow and Tehran for help. Hezbollah fighters from Lebanon have also been involved in a recent government's counter-offensive that resulted in the recapture of the strategically important town of Qusair.
On Friday evening, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah promised the group would keep fighting in Syria "wherever needed".
Meanwhile, Turkey's state-run news agency reported that 73 Syrian military officers, including seven generals, had crossed into the country with their families "seeking refuge".
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