– Vladimir Putin warns US not to launch attack in Syria (Guardian, Sep 12, 2013):
Russian president appeals to Americans in New York Times article claiming intervention would unleash more terror
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has warned against US military intervention in Syria, writing in what he called a direct address “to the American people and their political leaders” that it could “increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism”.
Syria was not witnessing a battle for democracy but “an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi-religious country”, Putin said, in a New York Times comment piece repeating assertions that rebels rather than the government might have used chemical weapons, “to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons”, and may be planning further attacks, even against Israel.
“[An American attack] could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilise the Middle East and north Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”
Putin’s article was published after the US welcomed what the Obama administration called “very specific” Russian proposals to secure the handover of Syria’s chemical weapons before key talks in Geneva. The Russian president said recent events had “prompted me to speak directly to the American people and their political leaders”.
In meetings planned for later on Thursday and again on Friday with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, the US secretary of state, John Kerry, will ask Moscow to put forward a credible and verifiable plan to list, quarantine and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stocks.
Kerry is accompanied by US chemical weapons experts to look at and possibly expand on Russian ideas for the complex task of dealing safely with the vast stockpiles in the midst of the brutal and unpredictable Syrian conflict. Russian technical experts will join Lavrov in the meetings.
“Our goal here is to test the seriousness of this proposal, to talk about the specifics of how this would get done, what are the mechanics of identifying, verifying, securing and ultimately destroying the chemical weapons,” the state department said shortly before Kerry left Washington.
In his article, Putin welcomed Obama’s consideration of the Russian-backed plan for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons and said his relationship with the US president was marked by “growing trust”. But he warned: “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it.
“Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan: ‘You’re either with us or against us.'” Putin said Russia was not aiming to protect the Syrian government but international law.
The White House said on Wednesday it was increasingly confident that its Kremlin partners were acting in good faith by “putting their prestige on the line”.
“We have seen more co-operation from Russia in the last two days than we have heard in the last two years,” said the White House spokesman Jay Carney.
“The proposal they have put forward is very specific and the Syrian reaction is a total about-face. This is significant.”
But the sudden thaw in White House attitudes towards Russia has met with scepticism in Washington, where many see it as an excuse for Barack Obama to avoid defeat in Congress over military action against Syria. A speech by Obama to the American people on Wednesday night was criticised by hawkish Republicans after it called for a suspension of Senate attempts to pass a resolution authorising US strikes.
The White House insisted that the Russian offer was genuine and a direct result of the pressure it had put on Syria. “There is no question that the credible threat of US force helped bring us to this point,” Carney said. “By making this proposal Russia has, to its credit, put its prestige on the line when it comes to a close ally.”
The US wants an agreement with Russia to be bolstered by a UN resolution to hold Syria accountable for using chemical weapons. The talks in Geneva between Kerry and Lavrov will not cover the wording of any resolution, but the US tried to play down a potential rift over whether it should contain the threat of military action if Syria fails to comply.
The talks will need to resolve differences between western powers and Russia over whether the disarmament process should be backed by a threat of force if the Syrian government reneges on the timetable.
Diplomats also said it was unlikely a UN security council vote would take place before the publication of a report by UN weapons inspectors on the suspected chemical weapons attack in rebel-held eastern Damascus on 21 August. That report is expected some time next week.
US, British and French diplomats continued to meet at the UN headquarters on Wednesday to discuss a French draft resolution that would give Bashar al-Assad’s regime 15 days to produce an “exhaustive, complete and definitive declaration of the locations, amount and types of all items related to its chemical warfare programme”.
The draft, according to a copy obtained by Reuters, would then order “immediate on-site inspections of Syria’s chemical, biological and related vehicles”. The full security council was due to meet later on Wednesday.
The Syrian government has acknowledged it agreed with Russia that it would sign the 1993 chemical weapons convention, deliver a full declaration of its arsenal and its locations, and provide access to UN, Russian and other inspectors.
Kerry said the US was still pushing for a UN resolution to bolster the plan which would punish Syria if it delayed or broke off the disarmament process. But he indicated he was prepared to listen to the Russian point of view.
“We need a full resolution from the security council in order to have confidence that this has the force that it ought to have. That’s our belief, and obviously the Russians are at a slightly different place. We’ll have to see where we get to. I’m not going to negotiate this out in public,” Kerry said.
The French president, François Hollande, also signalled flexibility on the wording of a resolution. A statement, released after a meeting of Hollande’s defence council, said: “The president emphasised France’s determination to explore all avenues at the UN security council, in order to enable actual and verifiable control of the chemical weapons present in Syria as soon as possible.”
France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, is due in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss the issue with Lavrov and may visit Beijing on Monday for talks with the Chinese government, which has been noncommittal on France’s draft resolution.