Framework text: U.S., Russia reach deal to remove Syria chemical arms

Share

The United States and Russia have reached a deal on a framework for removing all of Syria’s chemical weapons by mid-2014, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced in Geneva Saturday.

Under the framework agreed after three days of negotiations in Geneva, Syria would declare all of its chemical weapons sites within seven days, allow inspectors on the ground and access to any site by November, and the removal of the weapons from Syria for destruction by mid-2014. (Full framework text, released by the State Department, below the jump).

“The world will now expect the Assad regime to live up to its public commitment,” Kerry told a packed news conference in the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva Saturday, the Associated Press reports. “There can be no games, no room for avoidance, or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime.”

“We have committed to a standard that says, verify and verify,” Kerry said.

The framework would mandate the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to report on Syrian compliance or noncompliance with the agreed measures to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions, under Chapter 7 of the UN charter.

“In the event of non-compliance, including unauthorized transfer, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria, the UN Security Council should impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter,” the framework states.

Arms control advocates hailed the deal as a breakthrough, although one whose implementation will be challenging.

“While there are many further, challenging steps ahead, the agreement is an unprecedented breakthrough that would deny the Assad regime access to this dangerous arsenal and significantly reduce the risk that the government can use chemical weapons again, either inside Syria or against neighboring states in the region,” Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, wrote Saturday.

The deal was reached ahead of the expected release on Monday of the UN chemical weapons inspectors’ report on the August 21 alleged chemical weapons attack on the Damascus outskirts that the U.S. said killed over 1,000 people.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Friday that the report would show “overwhelming” evidence that a major chemical weapons attack had taken place. He also said, in remarks he reportedly did not realize were being broadcast on the UN in-house television station, that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “has committed many crimes against humanity,” and should be brought to justice after the war.

Continue reading

US Iran team shuffles as nuclear talks set to resume


President Obama this week nominated top White House Iran advisor Puneet Talwar to be Assistant Secretary of State for Political Military Affairs, as the Back Channel reported in July was expected.

The promotion for Talwar, who has served since 2009 as the National Security Council Senior Director for Iran, Iraq and the Persian Gulf affairs, would mark the latest departure of a key member of the U.S. Iran negotiating team as the U.S. prepares to resume P5+1 nuclear talks with the new Iranian Hassan Rouhani administration in the coming weeks, after a five month hiatus.

Rob Malley, a former Clinton administration NSC Middle East advisor, is expected to join the NSC, succeeding Talwar after his confirmation, as the Back Channel previously reported was under consideration. The White House declined to comment. Malley didn’t respond to a query.

But several sources suggested that Malley may not play the same role on Iran issues as Talwar, and that National Security Advisor Susan Rice would like to bring Malley to the White House to help rethink how the National Security Staff Middle East work is organized. Malley has already been informally advising the State Department on Syria from the outside, officials tell the Back Channel.

Also expected to join the NSC as a director on Gulf affairs is Elisa Catalano, Rice’s former Iran/Gulf advisor at the U.S. mission to the United Nations in New York, and a former special assistant to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns.

Sources said they were still uncertain who from the White House might be part of the U.S. delegation to the P5+1 talks with Iran, led by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman. Talwar has accompanied Sherman as the +1 to most of the political directors meetings with the Europeans and P5+1 for the past few years. Former White House WMD coordinator Gary Samore, who left the administration early this year for Harvard, was also a key member of the U.S. delegation to both the P5+1 political and technical talks with Iran, along with former State Department Iran arms control envoy Robert Einhorn, who left the administration this summer for Brookings. Sherman has selected longtime State Department nonproliferation advisor Jim Timbie to be her top Iran arms control deputy, succeeding Einhorn, officials said.

Beyond their formal functions, Talwar, Samore and Einhorn have served as key points of contact for informal consultations among the foreign diplomatic, arms control and Iran expert communities seeking to confer with the administration.

American officials are preparing with their P5+1 counterparts to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York later this month to agree on arrangements for resuming nuclear talks with Iran. Western officials are still waiting to see what kind of response to the P5+1’s offer new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif may bring to the table, when nuclear talks finally resume.

Iranian sources suggested this week that Iran might be willing to limit the number of its centrifuges, but not the quality of them; cap enrichment at 5%; accept a more intrusive IAEA inspection and safeguards regime; and sign the Additional Protocol, in return for significant sanctions relief, recognition of its legal right to enrich to 5%, and additional, unspecified incentives put forward by three European powers in a past proposal.

(Photo: President Barack Obama is briefed by Puneet Talwar, Senior Director for Iraq, Iran and the Gulf States, in the Oval Office, Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

P5+1 consider strategy for meeting new Iran team in NY

New Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is expected to meet with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in New York on September 23, US and Iranian diplomats told Al-Monitor.

Western officials hope the two lead negotiators will be able to agree at the meeting on a new date and venue for resumed P5+1 talks on Iran's nuclear program.

Meantime, the foreign ministers from the P5+1—the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia—are due to meet on Iran in New York, possibly on September 26th, a western official, speaking not attribution, said Thursday. (The State Department said it did not yet have a confirmed date for that meeting.) Iran is not currently expected to attend the meeting, but one source left open the possibility that could potentially change, depending on what Zarif and Ashton decide.

While Zarif is also expected to separately meet with British Foreign Secretary William Hague and with Russia’s Sergei Lavrov, no meeting with the U.S. has been planned, he told Iran’s Press TV in an interview Wednesday.

It’s possible that an impromptu “hallway” meeting could occur between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Zarif, but one is not planned, a western source suggested.

The White House has not confirmed but neither denied numerous Iranian reports that President Obama sent new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani a letter last month following his inauguration. A spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council told the Back Channel that they don’t discuss private correspondence. But current and former US officials indicated to the Back Channel they believe such a letter was sent, via Oman’s Sultan Qaboos, who traveled to Iran late last month. Obama is reported to have sent two earlier letters to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, in 2009 and earlier this year.

Continue reading

Ex IDF intel chief: Plan to remove Syria chemical arms 'important test'

Weeks before John Kerry or Russia's Sergei Lavrov, former Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin proposed that Russia could force Syria to give up its chemical weapons, as an alternative to US-led military strikes in the wake of the alleged, large-scale nerve gas attack Aug. 21st outside Damascus.

If Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to take Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons out of Syria, Yadlin, the former Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) intelligence chief, told Israel's Channel 2 late last month, “that would be an offer that could stop the attack,” the Times of Israel reported August 31. “It would be a 'genuine achievement' for President Obama,” the Times cited Yadlin.

Yadlin, now head of Israel's leading think tank, the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INSS), demurred in an interview Tuesday if he knew the origins of the chemical arms removal plan that he first raised publicly last month, but which US and Russian officials acknowledged only this week that Obama and Putin had previously discussed, including at the G-20 summit last week.

But as head of a think tank trying to come up with 'out of box' ideas to solve complex security problems, the solution made sense, Yadlin told Al-Monitor in an interview Tuesday, given both Washington's reluctance to become deeply enmeshed in Syria's civil war, and because of Putin's influence over Assad.

“When we thought about, since America is not willing to exercise excessive power or a long or decisive campaign against Assad, what will be an outcome that, on the one hand ,will eliminate the future exercise of chemical weapons, and on the other may not…escalate the Syrian civil war into a regional war,” Yadlin said.

“So, we thought that if Assad will be asked by Putin,” he said. “Putin is the key for the deal, because Putin is basically keeping Assad alive.”

“So if [Putin] says to himself, 'OK, I want to avoid an American attack,..and I don’t want to be identified with the chemical attack of Assad, my client, I can really achieve both of these goals by a deal that will end the chemical capabilities of Syria, by…taking [them] out of Syria and destroying” them, Yadlin said.

“And that will give enough diplomatic victory for the [U.S.] president [Obama], that he has done something directly correlated to the crossing of [his] red line,” he continued. “Win win.”

There is, however, “a loser here,” Yadlin said. “The loser is that Assad is not punished for what he has done. And maybe also saying that this allowed him to kill and continue to kill his people with conventional weapons. [But] I think this should be dealt with on another channel.”

The forthcoming United Nations chemical weapons inspector report is not likely to make Russia publicly admit the Syrian regime's alleged complicity in the Aug. 21 attack, Yadlin said.

“The only thing they care about is how to stop the Tomahawks and the B-2s from attacking Syria.” Yadlin said of the Russians.

“That's a very important lesson I think also for the Iranian issue,” he continued. “If you have a credible [threat of a] military attack, it is very likely that it will create a diplomatic solution.”

“If [the US] is serious with military threats, and your enemies and opponents really evaluate and analyze you are going to use it, then the chances you will not have to use it to reach some diplomatic solution is much higher.”

But in Obama projecting a credible threat of military force to punish and deter Syrian chemical weapons use that drove Russia at least to seek a last ditch diplomatic alternative, did the United States not indirectly demonstrate to Iran too its credibility on WMD proliferation?

“This is not enough,” Yadlin said, “especially because of the difficulties in exercising it”–an apparent reference to the political dysfunction and chaos that accompanied Obama's decision to put the decision on Syria strikes to a vote in Congress, which the White House appeared this week to be at risk of losing.

The details of any agreement to secure and remove Syria's chemical weapons also matter enormously, Yadlin said, and are both diplomatically and logistically daunting

“It should be a deal that is not camouflage, not an excuse not to do anything, but a real, performance based and highly legitimate deal,” Yadlin said. “Legitimacy should come from a UN Security Council resolution, which includes chapter 7, the article which says, if the Syrians are not living up to their obligations, force can be used.”

“Second, the timeline is important: don’t let the Syrians drag it [out] for years,” he said. “And then a very well defined mechanism: who is going to be on the ground to take care of it. UN forces, NATO forces, Russian forces…It must be a military force which is very professional, well protected, but with determination to complete the job.”

Asked about reports Russia had already Tuesday objected to a binding UN security council resolution and Putin saying the US must renounce its threat of force to secure the deal, Yadlin said such conditions would be, in his view, deal breakers. “Ok, if they prefer an American attack.”

“If you don't very much insist that the parameters are well defined, I think at the end of the day there will not be not a diplomatic solution, but a diplomatic failure.”

“This will be an important test,” Yadlin said, in international eyes, not just of Russia and Syria, but of Obama.

zp8497586rq

Obama, Putin previously discussed plan to secure Syria chemical arms


U.S. and Russian officials confirmed Tuesday that they have had discussions about securing Syria’s chemical arms going back months, including in a meeting between Presidents Obama and Putin at the G-20 summit last week, and that the idea was not born out of a stray comment made by US Secretary of State John Kerry at a London press conference Monday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that he and President Obama had “indeed discussed” the idea during a meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia last week.

He and Obama agreed “to instruct Secretary of State [John Kerry] and Foreign Minister [Sergey Lavrov] to get in touch” and “try to move this idea forward,” Putin told Russia Today in an interview Tuesday.

A US official confirmed this basic account Tuesday.

Obama and Putin, meeting in a corner for 20-30 minutes last Friday (Sept. 5), “agreed that a political solution is ultimately necessary to resolve the civil war, but we continue to have differences about Assad’s role in that transition,” a senior US administration official said Tuesday.  “However, they did agree that we could cooperate on the issue of chemical weapons – specifically, an effort to secure [chemical weapons] stockpiles, as both the US and Russia believe that they pose a significant danger, within Syria and beyond.”

“Putin broached the idea that had been discussed in previous meeting about reaching an international agreement to remove chemical weapons,” the US official said. “Obama agreed that could be an avenue for cooperation, and said that Kerry and Lavrov should follow up on the concept to shape a potential proposal. Putin agreed to relay that to Lavrov.”

Kerry, Lavrov and Putin earlier “spoke about this concept back in the spring, when Kerry first visited Moscow in April – at the time hooked to the notion that all shared an interest in avoiding collapse of the institutions of the state,” the U.S. official said.

In fact, Obama and Putin had discussed the concept at the G-20 meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico last year, and in subsequent meetings, “though agreement could not be reached,” the senior US official said.

Lavrov announced Monday that Russia was calling on Syria's leaders to turn over its chemical weapons to international custody, for subsequent destruction, and to sign the chemical weapons ban. Lavrov noted in his statement that the decision followed a telephone conversation he and Kerry had after Kerry was asked at a London news conference Monday if there is anything Syria could do to avert U.S. military action.

“He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week,” Kerry responded. “Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”

Kerry's reference to a diplomatic option was immediately downplayed by State Department spokespeople as “rhetorical” and “hypothetical,” and by another unnamed US official to CNN as a “goof.” But President Obama, in previously scheduled television interviews Monday, indicated that while he was skeptical of the plan, it represents “a potentially positive development,” and he was willing to “run this to the ground” to determine if it was a serious and feasible proposal, and not just a delaying tactic.

In both Kerry's and the “President's mind, it can be a win-win,” the U.S. official said Tuesday. “Either you succeed in coming up with a …means by which it happens quickly and verifiably; or you get to.. show that you exhausted another diplomatic route which adds legitimacy and brings more partners and more in Congress to your side.”

Kerry will meet with Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday to discuss the option in detail, the Associated Press reported Tuesday. Continue reading

Russia urges Syria to surrender chemical arms to avert strikes

In a potentially dramatic turn of events, Russia on Monday announced that it would immediately urge Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to international control as a way to avert U.S.–led military strikes.

“We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree on placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at an emergency press conference in Moscow Monday, following meetings with Syria’s visiting foreign minister Walid al-Moallem.

Lavrov said he had “already handed over the proposal to al-Moallem and expects a quick, and, hopefully, positive answer,’” the Associated Press reported.

“If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country would allow avoiding strikes, we will immediately start working with Damascus,” Lavrov said.

Moallem, speaking from Moscow on Syrian State TV shortly later Monday, said Syria welcomed the Russian initiative. But it was not immediately clear from his reported comments whether “welcoming” the proposal constituted acceptance of it.

“The Syrian Arab Republic welcomes the Russian initiative, motivated by the Syrian leadership's concern for the lives of our citizens and the security of our country, and motivated by our confidence in the wisdom of the Russian leadership, which is attempting to prevent American aggression,” Moallem was quoted as saying by ITV News.

The surprise turn in developments followed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry telling reporters in London Monday that Syria could avert strikes only if it agreed to turn over all of its chemical weapons by next week.

“He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week,” Kerry said at a news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague Monday. “Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that.”

“But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously,” Kerry added.

Kerry's remark–subsequently downplayed by State Department spokespeople as merely “rhetorical” and “hypothetical,” and characterized by another unnamed U.S. official to CNN as a “goof”–was followed by a telephone conversation between Kerry and Russia’s Lavrov Monday, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The Russian proposal emerged just as the White House is ramping up its public outreach as it presses Congress to vote to authorize the President to conduct limited military strikes to deter chemical weapons use in Syria.

President Obama is scheduled to give a half dozen television news interviews on Monday, and to give a prime time address to the nation Tuesday night at 9pm ET.

U.S. officials reacted to the news out of Moscow with skepticism Monday, suggesting it may be a stalling tactic, but promising to give the Russian proposal a “hard” look.

“Any effort to put Assad's chemical weapons under international control would be a positive step,” State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said at the department press briefing Monday. But we have “serious, deep skepticism.”

It's “even more important” that the United States doesn't take the pressure off Syria now, White House spokesman Jay Carney said at the White House press briefing Monday. The Russian initiative is  “explicitly in reaction to [the] threat of retaliation” by the United States.

Notably, amid the official expressions of skepticism, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking at the White House Monday after a meeting with President Obama, reiterated the conditions under which such a deal might be feasible.

“Now, if the regime immediately surrendered its stockpiles to international control as was suggested by Secretary Kerry and the Russians, that would be an important step,” Clinton said. “But this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction. And Russia has to support the international community's efforts sincerely, or be held to account.”

Initial reaction from the Hill ranged from cautious to skeptical—but did not entirely shut off openness to see if the Russian proposal pans out.

“While at this point I have healthy skepticism that this offer will change the situation and it will be several days before we can fully determine its credibility, I do know that it never would have been floated if the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had not approved the authorization for the use of force last week,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations panel, said in a statement Monday.

“We shouldn’t get our hopes up too high,” Sen. Carl Levin (D-Michigan), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.

(Photo: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov welcomes his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem, left, prior to talks in Moscow on Monday, Sept. 9, 2013. Photo: Ivan Sekretarev, Associated Press.)

zp8497586rq

World Jewish body cautiously welcomes Iran outreach, but says words not enough


The World Jewish Congress offered cautious praise Friday for the “surprising….welcome” Rosh Hashanah greetings offered to the Jewish people by Iran's new president and foreign minister on Twitter this week, but said the Iranian leaders' welcome words of tolerance on the occasion of the Jewish new year's holiday should be followed by “concrete actions.”

“The Rosh Hashanah message to 'all Jews' — which includes those living in Israel — was a surprising gesture and a welcome change in tone compared with President Rouhani’s predecessor,” World Jewish Congress President Ron Lauder said in a press statement Friday. “The comments attributed to Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on the Holocaust are also a step forward.”

However, Lauder continued, “words are meaningless if they are not backed up by credible actions. Until Iran ends its support for the enemies of the Jewish state, until it stops providing support to terrorist groups targeting Israeli and Jewish targets worldwide, and a regime that is gassing thousands of its own citizens in order to remain in power, these words sound hollow.”

“As the sun is about to set here in I wish all Jews, especially Iranian Jews, a blessed Rosh Hashanah,” Rouhani's official presidential English language Twitter account tweeted under his name on Wednesday, accompanied by a photo of a man praying at an Iranian synagogue.

“Happy Rosh Hashanah” Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted from his new Twitter account Thursday, setting off a stunning exchange with Christine Pelosi, the daughter of ranking House Democrat Nancy Pelosi, about former Iranian President Mahmoud's Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and oft-expressed virulent hostility to Israel. The exchange, and Zarif's authorship of the tweets, was subsequently confirmed by Zarif to CNN's Christian Amanpour and journalist Robin Wright.

The display of Rosh Hashana Twitter diplomacy from Iran's new president and foreign minister has set off stunned amazement in the social media and western policy universe, as well as revealed continued wariness and disbelief in some quarters about how sincere or calculating the expressed sentiments may be. They have also reportedly set off some confusion in Tehran, and disgruntlement among conservative circles deeply invested in Iran's avowed policies of hostility to Israel.

Zarif sought to address the matter in an interview with Iranian media Friday, distinguishing Jewish people from Zionists, but the comments may do little to ease western criticism of Iran's policies towards the Jewish state.

“Jews aren’t our enemies,” Zarif told Iran's Tasnim news agency in an interview this week, Ali Hashem reported Friday from Tehran:

“Judaism is a divine religion that we respect in accordance with the teachings of our religion and our country's constitution.” [Zarif] added, “In the Islamic Republic of Iran Jewish compatriots are a recognized minority and in the parliament they have an active parliamentary member.”

“Zionists are a minority with the Jews,” he said. “They are exploiting the suffering of the Jews to justify their crimes against the Palestinians. We won’t allow them to propagate that Iran hates the Jews and that it's a country that wants war.” Zarif concluded, “The Zionists for 60 years used the Holocaust as a pretext for all the crimes against the Palestinians, the world should have a say on this so that the Palestinians won’t suffer for another 60 years in the name of the Holocaust.”

zp8497586rq

Iran's Rosh Hashana Twitter diplomacy stirs amazement, disbelief


Iran's new Foreign Minister Javad Zarif joined President Hassan Rouhani in tweeting “Happy Rosh Hashanah” greetings Thursday, on the occasion of the Jewish new year's holiday, setting off a new wave of amazement, and some disbelief, in both the social media and policy universes.

Separately, Rouhani on Thursday announced that the Iran nuclear negotiating file has been moved to the Foreign Ministry from the Supreme National Security Council.

The State Department said Thursday that it had seen the reports on the nuclear file transfer to the foreign ministry, and reiterated its hope for swift, substantive engagement leading to a diplomatic resolution with Iran over its nuclear program. Nuclear negotiations are expected to be discussed in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this month, that both Zarif and Rouhani will attend. Zarif is expected to hold meetings there with chief international nuclear negotiator, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, British Foreign Minister William Hague, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Iranian media reported Thursday.

The stunning exchange of direct Twitter diplomacy from Tehran that began Wednesday with Rouhani wishing Jews everywhere a blessed Rosh Hashanah has set off amazement in the social media universe. It has also revealed a deep vein of wariness and mistrust, that remain a legacy of former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and threats to Israel, and the avowed hostility between Israel and Iran.

The outreach from Rouhani and Zarif, particularly to the Jewish people, signals the “most significant public diplomacy outreach since the revolution,” journalist Robin Wright said Thursday on Twitter. “It signals intent for a serious [diplomatic[ effort, even if issues [are] no easier.”

Zarif's Rosh Hashana greetings–only his second tweet since opening an account (@JZarif) earlier this week that has still not been officially verified–soon led to a stunning Twitter exchange with Christine Pelosi (@sfpelosi), the daughter of ranking House Democrat Nancy Pelosi, about Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial.

Christine Pelosi also tweeted about the exchange and posted a screen shot of it:

CNN's Christian Amanpour and journalist Robin Wright subsequently reported on Twitter that they had separately been in direct contact with Zarif and he confirmed that it is he himself tweeting:

Continue reading

Iran's Rouhani wishes Jews blessed Rosh Hashanah

Iranian Jews pray at the Yousefabad Synagogue in Tehran November 23, 2006.

In stunning contrast to his Holocaust denying predecessor, Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday sent well wishes to the Jewish people on the occasion of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which begins at sundown.

“Not even under the monarchy do we remember such a message,” Haleh Esfandiari, the Iranian-born scholar who heads the Middle East program at the Woodrow Willson International Center, said of the message.

Rouhani's well wishes to the Jewish people come as the Iranian mission at the United Nations confirmed to Al-Monitor that he will travel to New York later this month to address the United Nations General Assembly and participate in a disarmament meeting.

Rouhani is scheduled to address the General Assembly on the afternoon of September 24th, the same day that US President Obama will address the body in the morning.

It also comes as Rouhani and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif have sent multiple messages condemning the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Iran's ally, while not saying explicitly they believe it was done by the Assad regime, and while urging against U.S.-led action. Former Iranian President Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, however, is reported to have accused the Syrian government of gassing its own people at a lecture last week, allegedly recorded on video, even as other reports say his office had denied the comment.

“We strongly condemn any use of chemical weapons anywhere, but must be careful not to jump to conclusions before[ the] facts [are] clear,” Rouhani wrote on Twitter August 29.

Obama's national security chiefs have been testifying on the Hill and intensively consulting with lawmakers this week as the Senate and House consider whether to grant Obama an authorization to use military force to deter the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

zp8497586rq

Obama tasks Congress with Syria vote: ‘We should have this debate’

As the world braced for imminent action, President Obama announced on Saturday that he had decided to seek Congressional approval before carrying out military action in Syria to punish and deter alleged chemical weapons use.

“After careful deliberation, I have decided that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime targets,” Obama announced from the White House Rose Garden Saturday.

“But having made my decision..I’m also mindful that I’m the President of the world’s oldest constitutional democracy,” he said. “And that’s why I’ve made a second decision: I will seek authorization for the use of force from the American people’s representatives in Congress.”

The stunning decision, carried live by Syrian State television, was reportedly made by the president only on Friday evening, just hours after the White House released a declassified U.S. intelligence assessment laying out the evidence of the August 21 nerve gas attack, and Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a call for action.

“History would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency,” Kerry said at the State Department Friday.

Indeed, most of Obama’s national security cabinet reportedly only learned of Obama’s reversal at a White House meeting Saturday morning, during which some of them were said to have argued against it. Among other reasons, because Congress is on recess until September 9th. But Obama stood firm, and as Kerry said on Sunday, he’s the president.

The White House on Saturday submitted a proposed draft Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) in Syria to Congress. Senate Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said he would convene the Senate to consider the authorization on Wednesday (Sept. 4). House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), however, said he would not call the House back into session early from recess, and House members would consider the motion following their return September 9th.

President Obama reserved the right to act even if Congress votes against the measure– but he did not explicitly vow to do so.

“While I believe I have the authority to carry out this military action without specific congressional authorization, I know that the country will be stronger if we take this course, and our actions will be even more effective,” Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, said. “We should have this debate.”

Continue reading