Archive | September 7th, 2013

Obama’s Uphill Climb for Syria Support

ap president barack obama speaks syria thg 130905 16x9 608 Obamas Uphill Climb for Syria SupportCharles Dharapak/AP Photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)


  • THE WHITE HOUSE DOESN’T HAVE THE VOTES: ABC News has completed whip counts of both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and our reporting at this stage has led to one undeniable conclusion: After this week’s full court press by the Obama administration, the president does not yet have the votes to authorize the military strike on Syria. Currently, just 23 senators either support or are likely to support authorization. Another 17 either oppose or are likely to oppose granting Obama approval to use force to punish Syria for the use of chemical weapons. Almost all of the remaining 60 senators are undecided. In the House, a large swath of members are on the fence — only 45 members publicly support or are likely to support military action. So far, the president can only count on 20 hard or public “yes” votes, according to ABC’s canvas of members’ statements and our own reporting, vs. 63 hard or public “no” votes. Far more – 199 — either oppose publicly or likely oppose Syria strikes. 218 “no” votes could kill the measure. (NOTE: ABC’s count is based on public statements, interviews, reporting — and it could change. ABC News will continue to update these lists as new information becomes available).
  • BEHIND THE SCENES IN THE HOUSE: Many members of the House of Representatives haven’t declared a stance: 189 are undecided or haven’t indicated, according to numbers crunched byABC’s CHRIS GOOD, JOHN PARKINSON, ALEX LAZAR, JOANIE GREVE with assistance from the BBC Washington bureau. Insofar as they’ve commented, both parties appear to be against military action in Syria right now. Thirty-five Democrats support or are likely to support, while 54 oppose or are likely to oppose. Republicans oppose action 145 – 10. A big caveat about these numbers: There are far more leaners than members who will publicly pick a side. Right now, “oppose” beats “support” 63-20. The rest have voiced skepticism, declared leanings a certain way, or have heavily couched their public statements. ABC’s HOUSE WHIP COUNT:
  • BEHIND THE SCENES IN THE SENATE: According to ABC’s CHRIS GOOD, JEFF ZELENY AND ARLETTE SAENZ more Democratic senators (13) support or likely will support military action than Republicans (10). While far more Republicans (14) oppose or likely will oppose than Democrats (3). Democrats, so far, have been reluctant to side against the president. A majority of the Democratic caucus (36) has remained undecided, and among those with public positions, more (13) are in favor of a strike than are against (3). ABC’s SENATE WHIP COUNT:
  • MEANWHILE, IN RUSSIA: President Obama arrived in St. Petersberg today for the G20 summit, but all eyes will be on his showdown with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Syria, ABC’s KIRIT RADIA reports. The conflict in Syria is not actually on the two-day summit’s agenda and the two leaders have no plans to meet one on one, but the subject of Syria will be unavoidable. The Kremlin strongly opposes President Obama’s plan to intervene militarily in Syria, suggesting it is only a ploy to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Putin also believes any Western intervention will spark a wider conflict in the region. He has demanded that the United States receive authorization from the United Nations Security Council before taking action, something that Russia would surely block.”Any other pretext or method which might be used to justify the use of force against an independent sovereign state is inadmissible and can only be interpreted as an aggression,” President Putin said in an a joint interview with the Associated Press and a Russian state-owned television channel this week. WATCH ABC’s Jonathan Karl’s “Good Morning America” report on Obama and Putin at the G20:


THE SYRIA SCOREBOARD by the ABC News Political Unit:


















ABC’s RICK KLEIN: Based on our ABC News whip counts of both the House and Senate, opponents of a resolution to authorize military action against Syria include a broad coalition — Obama loyalists and impeach-Obama-now forces; tea party Republicans and veteran black Democrats; liberals and libertarians; Californians, Hawaiians, Arizonans, New Yorkers, Floridians. It’s an overstatement to say “Obama is losing,” or “Obama will lose.” But the coalitions and competing constituencies and quite fluid, and clearly, based on our reporting, he does not now have the support he’ll need. The case still needs to be made to the American people and their elected representatives.

ABC’s JEFF ZELENY: The White House has been flooding the zone for four days, yet the forces opposing a Syria strike certainly seem just as robust as when the week began. So what is the path to passing a resolution? It still rests to a large degree on persuading progressive Democrats to trust their president. Without significant movement from liberals, it could well fail in the House. But don’t forget another force quietly stepping up its efforts: the Israel lobby, which is almost certain to bring at least a few more Republicans on board, too.



SENATE COMMITTEE OK’S RESOLUTION FOR MILITARY FORCE IN SYRIA. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday approved a resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria, setting the matter up for consideration by the full Senate when it returns next week, ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ and JEFF ZELENY report. The committee voted 10-7 in favor of the resolution, with one senator voting “present.” The resolution sets a 60-day timeframe for President Obama to act with limited strikes against Syria, with a possibility of a 30-day extension. The new resolution would also bar the use of U.S. ground troops in Syria. “We commend the Senate for moving swiftly and for working across party lines on behalf of our national security,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said yesterday. “We believe America is stronger when the president and Congress work together. Two Democrats, Sens. Tom Udall of New Mexico and Chris Murphy of Connecticut, joined five Republicans to oppose the resolution. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., two likely presidential contenders in 2016, were among the Republicans voting against it. SEE THE VOTE BREAKDOWN:

WAR-WARY REPUBLICANS DISTRUST PLAN FOR SYRIAN STRIKE. As opposition to a U.S. strike in Syria seems to build in the House of Representatives, three key officials in the Obama administration took their case to the Capitol yesterday, adamant that military intervention is in line with the country’s national security interests, ABC’s JOHN PARKINSON reports. Still, Republicans on the House committee on Foreign Affairs expressed grave reservations about entering into what they deem a Syrian civil war. Secretary of State John Kerry, fielding the bulk of questions from war-wary lawmakers on the committee, implored Congress to vote in favor of a resolution authorizing military force so that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will not be emboldened with “impunity.” “We’re taking an action that is in our interest, in our national security interest in order to enforce a long-time standard [against the use of chemical weapons],” Kerry testified. “If that is not enforced, the world will be less safe, and our citizens, no matter where you live in this country, will be less safe because the likelihood is greater that somebody somewhere will get their hands on those materials as a result of our inaction.” Kerry, who was joined by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey, did his best to convince members that the resolution does not put “boots on the ground.”

–MEMBERS ‘DID NOT HOLD BACK’: But many members did not hold back their qualms that a military strike could spark a wider conflict and draw U.S. troops into a ground war. “This will not stop the butchering and the killing that takes place over there. So what is the purpose? What is the endgame here? Where is the imminent danger to the United States?” Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., asked. “Soldiers coming home deformed and limbless and even in a body bag is not acceptable to me and, therefore, I cannot and will not vote for this intervention in Syria.” Hagel responded, “This specifically notes that no boots would be on the ground, this resolution that is being drafted.” “I’ve heard that before,” Marino shot back.

PENTAGON CLARIFIES HAGEL’S CLAIM THAT RUSSIA SENT CHEMICAL WEAPONS TO SYRIA.Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel perked up some ears at yesterday’s House Foreign Affairs hearing on Syria with a brief exchange in which he said Russia had supplied chemical weapons to Syria, ABC’s LUIS MARTINEZ writes. It all happened in an exchange with Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., during which Hagel said it’s no secret that the Assad regime has significant stockpiles of chemical weapons. When Wilson asked where they’d come from, Hagel said, “Well, the Russians supply them. Others are supplying them with those chemical weapons. They make some themselves.” After the hearing had concluded, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little issued a clarification, explaining that Hagel was referring to the “well-known conventional arms relationship between Syria and Russia.” He also pointed out that Syria has had a “decades-old largely indigenous chemical weapons program.” He added that some Russian military equipment and support can be modified to support Syria’s chemical weapons program.

KERRY: NO PLACE FOR BENGHAZI IN SYRIA DEBATE. During a fiery exchange with Representative Jeff Duncan, Secretary of State John Kerry scolded the Republican South Carolina Congressman about bringing up Benghazi during the hearing about military strikes in Syria, ABC’s DANA HUGHESnotes. Duncan began his questioning by challenging whether the Obama administration can be trusted after Benghazi. He held up a picture of Tyrone Woods, one of the Americans killed in the attack, and said that Americans are demanding options. Duncan also challenged Kerry’s own professional history, saying Kerry has never “advocated for anything other than caution when involving U.S. forces in past conflicts,” and accused the power of the executive branch as being “so intoxicating” that Kerry has abandoned “past caution in favor for pulling the trigger on a military response so quickly.” Kerry immediately disputed the question, telling Duncan that he “volunteered to fight” for his country, “and that wasn’t a cautious thing to do when I did it.” When Duncan tried to interrupt the secretary, citing time constraints, Kerry cut him off. “I’m going to finish, Congressman. I am going to finish,” said Kerry. “When I was in the United States Senate, I supported military action in any number of occasions, including Grenada, Panama — I can run a list of them. And I am not going to sit here and be told by you that I don’t have a sense of what the judgment is with respect to this,” he said angrily. Kerry then scolded the Congressman about his references to Benghazi. “We’re talking about people being killed by gas and you want to go talk about Benghazi and Fast and Furious, ” he said. Duncan did not back down, saying that he “absolutely wants to talk about Benghazi” because four Americans lost their lives. He said that though he had sympathy for the Syrians killed, the U.S. needs to act cautiously.



JOHN MCCAIN’S POKER FACE. Pokergate has officially come to the U.S. Senate, ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ notes. A Washington Post photographer snapped a picture Tuesday of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., playing poker on his phone as the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey make the administration’s case on Syria. After he was caught in the act, McCain joked about the poker game on twitter Tuesday night. Yesterday, the incident followed McCain again back to a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting to consider the use of force against Syria.  As he took his seat, McCain waved his phone at photographers to prove he wasn’t playing electronic poker again, and Sen. Bob Menendez, chairman of the committee, jokingly gave his colleague a warning about electronic games in the committee room. “The committee has rules against electronic games,” Menendez quipped.


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Russia sends four more warships to eastern Mediterranean near Syria


A Russian warship sails through the Bosporus in Istanbul, Turkey, on September 5, 2013.

A Russian warship sails through the Bosporus in Istanbul, Turkey, on September 5, 2013.

Russia’s anti-submarine ship Admiral Panteleyev, the Neustrashimyy-class frigate and three landing ships, Alexander Shabalin, the Admiral Nevelsky, and the Peresvet, are already in the eastern Mediterranean, the report revealed.

The Russian navy has sent four more ships to the eastern Mediterranean, near the Syrian coast, as the United States considers launching a military offensive against the Arab country.

The SSV-201 Priazovye reconnaissance ship, escorted by two landing ships, Minsk and Novocherkassk, had already passed through Turkey’s Bosphorus Strait, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted a source from the Saint Petersburg-based central naval command as saying on Friday.

A third landing ship was just making a short stop to lift “special cargo” in Novorossiysk in the Black Sea, the report added without elaborating on the cargo.

“The ship will make call in Novorossiysk, where it will take on board special cargo and set off for the designated area of its combat duty in the eastern Mediterranean,” the source said.

The news agency added that Moscow will also send destroyer Smetlivy to the eastern Mediterranean soon.

Russia’s anti-submarine ship Admiral Panteleyev, the Neustrashimyy-class frigate and three landing ships, the Alexander Shabalin, the Admiral Nevelsky, and the Peresvet, are already in the eastern Mediterranean, the report revealed.

Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who hosted a G20 summit in St. Petersburg, said on Friday that Moscow will help Syria if it comes under attack.

“Will we help Syria? We will. We are already helping, we’re sending arms [and] cooperating in the economic sphere,” Putin stated.

Elsewhere in his remarks, the Russian president said that a great majority of the world leaders gathered in St. Petersburg opposed unilateral military offensive against Syria.

“I can tell you who favored military action. It is the US, Turkey, Canada, Saudi Arabia and France, while the British prime minister’s support for the US was not shared by his citizens,” Putin said. “Now, who were categorically against: Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Italy.”

Last week, the British parliament voted against military intervention in the Arab state despite calls by Prime Minister David Cameron.

On Tuesday, Putin said Moscow has its own plans to deal with the possible US war on Syria.

“We have our own ideas about what we would do and how we would do it if the situation develops toward the use of force or otherwise,” he said. “We have our plans, but it’s too early to talk about them.”

The war rhetoric against Syria intensified after foreign-backed opposition forces accused the government of President Bashar al-Assad of launching a chemical attack on militant strongholds in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21.

Damascus has vehemently denied the accusations, saying the chemical attack was carried out by the militants themselves as a false-flag operation.

On August 31, US President Barack Obama said he has decided that Washington must take military action against the Syrian government, which would mean a unilateral military strike without a UN mandate.

Obama said that despite having made up his mind, he will take the case to US Congress. But he added that he is prepared to order military action against the Syrian government at any time.

On Wednesday, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7 in favor of a resolution authorizing the Obama administration to attack Syria.

The resolution would limit military action against Syria to a period of 60 days, with the possibility of a 30-day extension. It also bans the use of US ground troops.

Obama administration officials have embarked upon an extensive lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill, where US lawmakers in both chambers of Congress are expected to vote on a military action against Syria after they return from recess on September 9.

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Syria Crisis Obama: Most of G20 agrees Assad used chemical arms, but split over military action



The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is set to “mount a major blitz” in support of US President Barack Obama’s resolution to take military action in Syria, the Washington-based Politico website quoted officials with the group as saying on Thursday.

The powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington came out in support of the resolution in a statement issued earlier this week, but was expected to step-up its lobbying efforts, as the measure to attack Syria was thus far failing to muster a sufficient number of votes to pass in the House of Representatives, according to lawmakers.

Politico quoted officials as saying some 250 Jewish leaders planned to make the case to lawmakers next week that failure to act in the face of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons would serve to embolden Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

AIPAC was expected to lobby “virtually every member of Congress,” according to the report.

AIPAC has close ties to Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip John Cornyn, Republican leaders who have thus far withheld support for the Syria resolution, Politico reported.

Even after congressional hearings featuring Obama’s secretaries of state and defense, a half dozen closed-door briefings and phone calls from Obama himself, it was too close to call on whether Congress will authorize military force.

First-term Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who had been seen as a possible swing vote, dealt the president a setback when he announced on Thursday he would oppose the resolution to authorize military strikes.

“Given the case that has been presented to me, I believe that a military strike against Syria at this time is the wrong course of action,” Manchin said.

Republican Representative Michael Grimm, who initially backed Obama’s call last month for military strikes, withdrew his support on Thursday. “Unfortunately, the time to act was then and the moment to show our strength has passed,” said Grimm, a Marine combat veteran.

If Obama fails to win congressional support, he would face two undesirable options. One would be to go ahead with military strikes anyway, which could provoke an angry showdown with Congress over their respective powers.

The other would be to do nothing, which White House officials privately acknowledge would damage the credibility of any future Obama ultimatum to other countries.

Twenty-four of the Senate’s 100 members oppose or lean toward opposing authorizing military strikes, according to estimates by several news organizations, with an equal number favoring military action and roughly 50 undecided.

Every vote will count in the Senate, where a super-majority of 60 will likely be needed because of possible procedural hurdles for a final vote on approving military action.

A count by the Washington Post listed 103 members of the House of Representatives as undecided, of whom 62 are Democrats. There are 433 members currently sitting in the House.

Party loyalty, which drives most issues in a Congress known for its partisan gridlock, was becoming increasingly irrelevant, particularly among Obama’s fellow Democrats. Some Democratic liberals who usually line up behind Obama’s policies have expressed reluctance to back an attack on Syria.


“I support the president,” said Democratic Representative Bill Pascrell, who remained undecided.

“I want him to succeed. But he isn’t asking me to be – nor will I be – a lap dog. So I will make my own decision. I’m an adult,” Pascrell said.

Republicans have opposed Obama on a host of issues in Congress – and those aligned with the conservative Tea Party movement appear likely to do so on this matter. But other Republicans who favor strong American engagement internationally are lining up behind the Syria military strike authorization.

Most House Republicans are expected to vote “no,” even though their top two leaders, Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, have endorsed the military strikes.

While Obama administration officials continued to express confidence about ultimately winning congressional support, it was clear on Thursday that their blitz of briefings was not having the desired impact, especially with many lawmakers reporting opposition to strikes among their constituents.

Manchin said he listened to the concerns of thousands of people in his home state of West Virginia, attended hearings and briefings, and spoke with former and current military leaders.

In a statement, he said that “in good conscience, I cannot support” the resolution authorizing force and that he will work to develop other options. “I believe that we must exhaust all diplomatic options and have a comprehensive plan for international involvement before we act,” Manchin added.

Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski told reporters, “I have more questions than I have answers, and I hope to get them over the course of today and tomorrow.”

She spoke as she entered the latest closed-door session on Thursday with Obama’s national security team, only to emerge two hours later saying she still had “more questions.”

“What we heard today made a compelling forensic case that, one, nerve gas was used, and number two, that it was used” by Assad’s forces, Mikulski said. “The next step, then, has to be … what is the way to both deter and degrade his ability to ever do it again? … Does a military strike do that?”


The Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House both must approve the measure. It cleared its first hurdle on Wednesday when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved the resolution by a 10-7 vote – with Democrats and Republicans voting on both sides of the issue.

The full Senate is likely to begin voting next Wednesday, a Senate aide said. It will start with a vote on an anticipated legislative roadblock by Republicans, and then move on to a vote on the resolution to authorize the use of force, the aide added.

The timing of a vote in the House remained unclear.

Memories of the protracted wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still fresh in the minds of members of Congress, leaving many in both parties worried that a military strike could lead to a longer and larger US engagement in Syria.

If Obama is going to win passage of the measure in the House, he must convince fellow Democrats like Representative Zoe Lofgren and Pascrell.

The two liberals have been reliable Obama allies on a crush of issues since Obama entered office, but now voice plenty of questions and concerns about his bid to attack Syria.

Lofgren joined a conference call for House Democrats on Monday given by Obama administration officials. Lofgren complained that the briefing did not provide nearly as much information as she had sought and disliked at least a portion of Secretary of State John Kerry’s presentation.

Kerry invoked memories of Nazi Germany when he told the House Democrats that the United States faces “a Munich moment” in deciding whether to wage military strikes against Syria.

“I thought it was a very unfortunate comment. We need facts, not overheated emotional rhetoric,” Lofgren said.

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EU sides with Russia’s Putin, urges against US ‘military solution’ in Syria


Vladimir Putin

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia- Europe’s top officials warned against a military response in Syria on Thursday, aligning themselves more closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin than President Barack Obama in how best to respond to the chemical attack in the Syrian civil war.

While describing the Aug. 21 attack near Damascus, in which an estimated 1,400 people died, as “abhorrent” and a crime against humanity, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said a military strike would not help resolve the crisis.

“There is no military solution to the Syrian conflict,” Van Rompuy told reporters ahead of a summit of the Group of 20 countries this week in St Petersburg, when the 2-1/2-year-old conflict in Syria is expected to dominate debate along with discussion on the global economy. 

“Only a political solution can end the terrible bloodshed, grave violations of human rights and the far-reaching destruction of Syria,” Van Rompuy said.

“While respecting the recent calls for action, we underscore at the same time the need to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the UN process.”

His position, supported by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, would appear to set the European Union at odds with the United States, since Obama has said he is prepared to launch military strikes once he has approval from the US Congress, where votes are expected next week.

It also suggests internal divisions within the European Union. France, which with Britain is the most influential of the EU’s 28 member states on foreign policy, has said it will support any military action taken by Washington.

British Prime Minister David Cameron was also keen to support military intervention, but he lost a parliamentary vote on the issue last week and Britain will not take part.


The position set out by Van Rompuy and Barroso effectively calls for the international community to work through the United Nations in determining the response to Syrian President Bashar Assad and his government.

That is not dissimilar to the line adopted by Putin, a firm ally of Assad, who has condemned the US rush to action and goaded US officials for the mistakes made in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Putin has also accused NATO of exceeding the bounds of a 2011 UN mandate for intervention in Libya.

Van Rompuy said he had no reason to doubt the credibility of the evidence presented by the United States indicating Assad’s forces released the chemical weapons. But he said it was essential to wait until UN experts had concluded an on-the-ground investigation into the attack with a report.

“I look forward to the information the UN secretary general will share with us on this matter later today,” he said. “It is important that at least a preliminary report is released as early as possible.”

EU foreign ministers meet in Vilnius on Friday and Saturday, when they will discuss the situation in Syria, among other issues. US Secretary of State John Kerry will join them and is expected to push the case for military action.

While France has made clear its support for a U”Only a political solution can end the terrible bloodshed, grave violations of human rights and the far-reaching destruction of Syria,” Van Rompuy said.S-led response, and Denmark has given similar indications, most other EU member states have either not spoken up or privately have expressed reservations about an armed retaliation.

Barroso said diplomacy, including renewed efforts towards a Syria peace conference in Geneva, was the only way forward.

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US gives up on UNSC in Syria crisis, blames Russia



The United States declared on Thursday that it has given up trying to work with the UN Security Council on Syria, accusing Russia of holding the council hostage and allowing Moscow’s allies in Syria to deploy poison gas against innocent children.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power’s remarks left no doubt that Washington would not seek UN approval for a military strike on Syria in response to an August 21 chemical attack near Damascus. She said a draft resolution Britain submitted to the five permanent council members last week calling for a response to that attack was effectively dead.

“I was present in the meeting where the UK laid down the resolution, and everything in that meeting, in word and in body language, suggests that that resolution has no prospect of being adopted, by Russia in particular,” Power told reporters.

“Our considered view, after months of efforts on chemical weapons and after 2-1/2 years of efforts on Geneva (peace talks), the humanitarian situation is that there is no viable path forward in this Security Council,” she said.

“In the wake of the flagrant shattering of the international norm against chemical weapons use, Russia continues to hold the council hostage and shirk its international responsibilities, including as a party to the chemical weapons convention,” Power said.

After Britain submitted the draft resolution to fellow Security Council veto powers China, France, Russia and the United States, its parliament voted against British participation in planned US military strikes to punish Syria’s government for the chemical attack.

Washington, which is seeking US congressional approval for military action, blames the latest poison gas attack on forces loyal to Assad. The United States says that sarin gas attack killed over 1,400 people, many of them children.

Power said the 15-nation council failed to live up to its role as the guardian of international peace and security.

“Unfortunately for the past 2-1/2 years, the system devised in 1945 precisely to deal with threats of this nature did not work as it is supposed to,” Power said. “It did not protect peace and security for the hundreds of Syrian children who were gassed to death on August 21.”

“The system has protected the prerogatives of Russia, the patron of a regime that would brazenly stage the world’s largest chemical weapons attack in a quarter century while chemical weapons inspectors sent by the United Nations were just across town,” she said.

EU divided over Syria
European Union nations enter high-octane talks on Syria as divided as ever, split between moral outrage over the use of chemical weapons and the obligations of slow and burdensome UN diplomacy.

France, like the United States, is preparing possible armed action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Britain has been surprisingly hamstrung by its parliament. And Germany says it will not take part in an attack and would limit itself to a backseat role at most.

While EU leaders are in St. Petersburg with Russian leader Vladimir Putin and US President Barack Obama during the G20 summit ending Friday, the EU’s foreign and defense ministers are meeting in nearby Lithuania through Saturday, seeking to broker a common stance that statements Thursday indicated would prove elusive.

The Kremlin’s chief of staff said Russia has been sending warships to the Mediterranean Sea for possible evacuation of Russian citizens from Syria.

Russian news agencies on Thursday quoted Sergei Ivanov as saying that Russia has been boosting its naval presence in the Mediterranean “primarily” in order to organize a possible evacuation of Russians from Syria.

Speaking in Russia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said: “I do not believe yet that we will reach a joint position.” And while EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton cautiously said in Vilnius that she had been “of course, carefully talking with our colleagues and allies,” EU President Herman Van Rompuy – speaking in St. Petersburg – bluntly insisted upon UN cooperation, upsetting the French and widening divisions further.

Rebuffing French urgency, Van Rompuy told reporters that EU nations had to underscore “the need to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the UN process.”

That involves further delays as UN inspectors prepare a report on the August 21 chemical attack and the diplomatic quagmire at the Security Council, where Russia and China have veto power over military action.

By invoking UN approval, Van Rompuy appeared to be isolating France, the lone EU member actively looking at military intervention. French President Francois Hollande came to the G20 summit in hopes of rallying other European countries to support military action, if not with warplanes then at least with logistical or other symbolic help. Van Rompuy’s comments echoed those of Merkel – and upset the summit’s French contingent.

French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian held bilateral meetings with several EU counterparts in Vilnius Thursday, aiming to make them fully aware of the “unacceptable nature” of the chemical weapons attack, an official in his office said.

He was pushing for tough language against Syria in a statement expected from Ashton on the crisis in coming days.

On Saturday, US Secretary John Kerry will be coming to Vilnius to confer with his EU counterparts for a tougher stance against Assad.

The US said it has proof that the Assad regime is behind attacks that Washington claims killed at least 1,429 people, including more than 400 children. Obama, however, finds himself slowed on taking action as he seeks congressional authorization for the use of force in a vote expected after Congress returns to work September 9.

British Prime Minister David Cameron stunningly lost such a parliamentary vote on military action last week, strongly reducing any chance of a US-British alliance such as the one that dominated the Iraq war a decade ago.

Now, Cameron is on the defensive as he faces world leaders in St. Petersburg.

In the face of such problems, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged “the international community to overcome its divisions.”

“Not to act would send a dangerous signal to dictators all over the world that they can use chemical and maybe other weapons of mass destruction without any reaction from the international community,” Rasmussen said.

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Footage of chemical attack in Syria is fraud

An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube by the Arbeen unified press office on August 21, 2013 shows a man comforting a Syrian girl in shock as she screams in Arabic "I am alive" following an attack in which Syrian opposition claim the regime used chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus (AFP Photo)An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube by the Arbeen unified press office on August 21, 2013 shows a man comforting a Syrian girl in shock as she screams in Arabic “I am alive” following an attack in which Syrian opposition claim the regime used chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus (AFP Photo)

There is proof the footage of the alleged chemical attack in Syria was fabricated, Mother Agnes Mariam el-Salib, mother superior of St. James Monastery in Qara, Syria, told RT. She says she is about to submit her findings to the UN.

Mother Agnes, a catholic nun, who has been living in Syria for 20 years and has been reporting actively on what has been going on in the war-ravaged country, says she carefully studied the video featuring allegedly victims of the chemical weapons attack in the Syrian village of Guta in August and now questions its authenticity.

In her interview with RT, Mother Agnes doubts so much footage could have been taken in so little time, and asks where parents of the supposedly dead children are. She promises to send her report to the UN.

The nun is indignant with the world media for apparently turning a blind eye to the Latakia massacre by rebel extremists, which left 500 civilians including women and children dead.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry has called on the international community to pay attention to revelations made by Mother Agnes Mariam el-Salib.

RT: The United States has used internet photos and video footage of the supposed chemical weapons attack in Eastern Guta to build a case against the Syrian government. Have you been able to look at these files? What do you have to say about them?

Mother Agnes Mariam el-SalibMother Agnes Mariam el-Salib

Mother Agnes: I have carefully studied the footage, and I will present a written analysis on it a bit later. I maintain that the whole affair was a frame-up. It had been staged and prepared in advance with the goal of framing the Syrian government as the perpetrator.

The key evidence is that Reuters made these files public at 6.05 in the morning. The chemical attack is said to have been launched between 3 and 5 o’clock in the morning in Guta. How is it even possible to collect a dozen different pieces of footage, get more than 200 kids and 300 young people together in one place, give them first aid and interview them on camera, and all that in less than three hours? Is that realistic at all? As someone who works in the news industry, you know how long all of it would take.

The bodies of children and teenagers we see in that footage – who were they? What happened to them? Were they killed for real? And how could that happen ahead of the gas attack? Or, if they were not killed, where did they come from? Where are their parents? How come we don’t see any female bodies among all those supposedly dead children?

I am not saying that no chemical agent was used in the area – it certainly was. But I insist that the footage that is now being peddled as evidence had been fabricated in advance. I have studied it meticulously, and I will submit my report to the UN Human Rights Commission based in Geneva.

RT: Recently you’ve visited Latakia and the adjacent areas, you’ve talked to the eyewitnesses to the massacre of civilians carried out in Latakia by Jabhat al-Nusra. What can you tell us about it?  

MA: What I want to ask first of all is how the international community can ignore the brutal killing spree in Latakia on Laylat al-Qadr early in the morning of August 5, an attack that affected more than 500 people, including children, women and the elderly. They were all slaughtered. The atrocities committed exceed any scale. But there was close to nothing about it in the international mass media. There was only one small article in “The Independent”, I believe.

We sent our delegation to these villages, and our people had a look at the situation on-site, talked to the locals, and most importantly – talked to the survivors of the massacre.

I don’t understand why the Western media apply double standards in this case – they talk about mass murder that the use of chemical weapons resulted in non-stop, but they keep quiet about the Latakia massacre.

RT: Do you know anything about the fate of hostages captured in Latakia?

A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on August 20, 2013 shows soldiers loyal to the regime forces wrapping a decomposed body that was allegedly discovered in a mass grave in northern Latakia, a province on the Mediterranean coast (AFP Photo)A handout picture released by the Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) on August 20, 2013 shows soldiers loyal to the regime forces wrapping a decomposed body that was allegedly discovered in a mass grave in northern Latakia, a province on the Mediterranean coast (AFP Photo)

MA: In the village of Estreba they massacred all the residents and burnt down their houses. In the village of al-Khratta almost all the 37 locals were killed. Only ten people were able to escape.

A total of twelve Alawite villages were subjected to this horrendous attack. That was a true slaughterhouse. People were mutilated and beheaded. There is even a video that shows a girl being dismembered alive – alive! – by a frame saw. The final death toll exceeded 400, with 150 to 200 people taken hostage. Later some of the hostages were killed, their deaths filmed.

At the moment we are looking for the hostages and negotiating their release with the militants, but so far we haven’t managed to achieve that.

RT: We often hear reports of Christians being persecuted by the militants. Just the day before yesterday there was an attack in the village of Maaloula, where the majority of population is Christian. Are Christians in Syria facing grave danger?

MA: Everyone in Syria is facing grave danger. There was a case of Muslim religious leaders being kidnapped and beheaded. They were humiliated and tortured. Ismailis, the druze, Christians – people from all parts of Syrian society – are being mass murdered. I would like to say that if these butchers didn’t have international support, no one would have dared to cross the line. But today, unfortunately, the violation of human rights and genocide in Syria is covered up on the international level. I demand the international community stops assessing the situation in Syria in accordance with the interests of a certain group of great powers. The Syrian people are being killed. They fall victim to contractors, who are provided with weapons and sent to Syria to kill as many people as possible. The truth is, everywhere in Syria people are being kidnapped, tortured, raped and robbed. These crimes remain unpunished, because the key powers chose international terrorism as a way to destroy sovereign states. They’ve done it to other countries. And they will just keep doing it if the international community doesn’t say “Enough!”

RT: You’ve managed to get hold of some sensitive information. Does this make you fear for your life as someone who keeps documents that may compromise the militants? Has anyone threatened you?

MA: You are right. I do get threatened. They are trying to discredit me. I know there is a book coming out soon in France that labels me as a criminal who kills people. But any believer should first and foremost trust their conscience, their belief in God, and that will help them save innocent lives. I don’t care much about my own life. My life is no more precious than that of any Syrian child, whose body could be used as evidence to justify wrongdoing. This is the biggest crime ever perpetrated in history.

RT: What should the Syrians do to stop the tragedy they are going through?

AFP PhotoAFP Photo

MA: The Syrians themselves can do nothing to stop it. They can only rely on the international community, friendly nations, world powers, such as Russia, China, and India. With a lot of enthusiasm we did welcome the news that the British parliament voted against the participation of their country in the possible war against Syria. There is a terrorist war going on against Syria right now. The international community and Syria’s friends should join forces and say: Enough! And they need to use every opportunity to do that. Otherwise this threat Syria is facing now will turn into a threat to universal peace.

RT: What should the Vatican and other hubs of Christianity do to put an end to this tragedy?

MA: The Pope says he has no planes, no bombs, and no armed forces. Instead, he has the power of the truth, and the truth he has told. There are messages coming from everywhere in the world urging against a military intervention in Syria. Those who want to hear them will. The Pope, the patriarchs, Nobel Prize winners, including women, keep saying the same in unison: Let’s stop fighting. No conflict can be solved by military means. Stop adding fuel to the flame!
All the prominent public figures in the world have risen to speak against the war. Everyone has spoken their mind, but the US prefers to turn a deaf ear. The world public opinion has turned against the US. It’s the first time in history that America is alone. They are claiming that they are backed by ten countries. But I insist they aren’t, because the people of these countries disagree with their governments. Even the American people disagree with their government.

RT: Do you believe that this tragedy will end and Syria will remain a homeland for all Syrians, regardless of their ethnical or religious identity?

MA: I’m not Syrian myself, but I’ve been living in Syria for 20 years. I’d like to remind everyone that Damascus is the most ancient capital in the world. I would like to remind everyone that Syria is the cradle of civilization. I would like to remind everyone that this is the holy land that gave birth to the main world religions. What is happening in Syria should serve as a lesson for everyone. I mean that in existential rather than political sense. I am convinced that with God’s help the Syrian people will be able to remain strong, heal their wounds, reconcile and chase out all the foreign mercenaries and terrorists. I believe there will be peace in Syria. But for that we need help from the international community.

Posted in SyriaComments Off on Footage of chemical attack in Syria is fraud

Iran: Rafsanjani signals wavering in long-standing support for Syria


Former president blames Assad for chemical weapons attack, setting up a clash with hardliners in Islamic republic – analysis

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani

Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Photograph: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 79, has been written off more than most. But the former president and head of the expediency council remains an astute operator, and my guess is that he has chosen his ground carefully in calling for a reappraisal of Iran‘s unblinking support for the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

In saying Assad’s forces were responsible for using chemicals weaponsin Damascus in an attack on 21 August, Rafsanjani has surely judged this a good issue for the first serious clash between pragmatists and more “hardline” forces since Hassan Rouhani, a Rafsanjani ally, took over as president a month ago.

While a clash was inevitable sooner or later – and while Rouhani still has the aura of June’s overwhelming election victory – it has arrived quickly, and reflects how delicate a time it is in the Middle East as the United States ponders its first direct military involvement in the Syrian war.

The public argument within Iran’s political class reflects a wider disagreement in Tehran over regional policy and the prospect of talks with Washington about the nuclear programme. There are many in Tehran who would love to undermine Rouhani’s calls for dialogue as means of reaching a compromise over the nuclear programme and reducing region-wide tensions between Shia and Sunni Muslims being brought to boiling point by violent chaos in Syria.

Whatever Iran’s longstanding alliance with Assad and whatever the imperatives of maintaining logistical support to Hezbollah, Iran has a strong public policy of opposition to chemical weapons. The deaths of 20,000 Iranian soldiers and the continuing suffering of around 100,000 Iranians from the use of chemicals by Iraq during the 1980-88 war are well known in the country. They are often highlighted on state television.

And while Iran’s link to Assad remains strategic, the conflict is clearly worsening relations with Sunni Arab states. Shia are deeply aware – it is intrinsic to the origins of the faith – of their minority status. Takiyya, the doctrine that holds that beliefs can be disguised in certain circumstances in order to protect the faithful from danger, came about because the Shia cannot win any all-out conflict.

The calculation of the pragmatists is surely that the longer the Syria war lasts, the greater the prospect that the fall of Assad. This would at the very least leave Tehran facing a new regime in Damascus, from which it and Hezbollah are deeply alienated, or perhaps a mess with little of a regime to speak of.

Violence in the region has proved deeply unpredictable. Think of Russia‘s 1979-89 war in Afghanistan, of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, of 9/11, of Hezbollah’s action in Beirut in 2008. Syria could produce even greater genies that cannot be replaced in any bottle.

In Beirut, a friend told me of “whole Syrian families glad to find a branch of a tree on the airport road where they can shelter”. Many Iraqi Christians who fled to Syria to escape Sunni sectarian “cleansing” have returned to face uncertainties in their homeland, and some reports say 150,000 Syrian Christians fleeing Sunni violence are under effective siege in a “valley of Christians” in the west. These are the lucky ones.

Rafsanjani’s speech reflects a view that Iran should work for a diplomatic compromise. He broke from earlier claims from officials including Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, and Abbas Araghchi, then foreign ministry spokesman, that rebels and not the Assad regime had used the chemicals. Rafsanjani’s speech also acknowledged the weaknesses of Iran’s position – especially in being unable to sell, or to receive payments for, oil. This was a brave move, as it carries that risk that some in Washington will argue once again that with Iran “weakening”, confrontation and force can produce a new dawn for pax Americana in the region.

It is hard not to think Rafsanjani is acting as a stalking horse for the president. But even Rouhani, in condemning the use of chemical weapons and calling for international action, did not attribute culpability to either side. And in changing tack after initial comments, Zarif argued that with “no proof” that the Syrian government was responsible, culpability should be established internationally before any action taken. Rafsanjani has led from the front.

One western diplomat told me back in February that the outlines of a Syrian agreement, tied in to a wider regional settlement, were apparent, even though the political difficulties in achieving them were acute.

“Everybody’s had to go with the Shia-majority dominance of Iraq, and in Syria, we are prepared to accept similar logic,” he said. And if this were to be the outcome, he continued, it would be better achieved round a table than through unpredictable violence. TurkeySaudi ArabiaEgypt, and Iran, he argued, needed to front a deal, backed by the US and Russia, that would accept majority Sunni rule in Syria with minority rights, and Shia-rule in Iraq with minority rights. But even then, the diplomat was not optimistic. “The stars are not aligned to allow that to happen,” he said.

The effects of US strikes on possibilities for diplomacy are unknown, and yet the diplomatic doors remain slightly ajar. There was considerable speculation in Tehran at the end of August that a visit by Qaboos bin Said Al Said, the leader of Oman, was intended to help start low-profile talks between Iran and the US. The daily Khorasan reported the Sultan had brought a proposal for Iran to be readmitted to the international money-transfer system Swift if it reduced uranium enrichment. And this came after the visit of Jeffrey Feltman, the UN under-secretary general and former senior US diplomat and ex-Lebanon ambassador, ostensibly to discuss the UN interest in Syria, Egypt and Lebanon.

The “leaking” of details of the Qaboos visit – possibly by conservative elements opposed to talks with the US – may have reflected the disagreements within Iranian politics. The visit, or indeed the leak itself, may have prompted Rafsanjani’s intervention over chemical weapons.

“One cannot be sure of anything,” an analyst in Tehran said. “Once the first Tomahawk missile takes flight, everybody is in the dark as to what happens next. Curiously in all this the collective political establishment of the West too, seems to be viewing the coming crisis like a deer caught in the headlights. We will have to wait and see what the next two weeks or so will bring: war or the greatest political stepping back from the brink of war the world will have ever seen the Americans take.”

The pragmatists in Tehran may be judging that Syria is taking the region in a direction where pragmatism will be submerged – “burned” would be a better word – by militarists and those on all sides who blame others for everything. If so, then Rafsanjani is telling pragmatists in Washington and Europe and the Sunni Arab establishment that there are those in Iran who want to talk. Rouhani and Rafsanjani await a response.

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