The U.N. Meets Next Week. Can They Agree on Syria’s Chemical Weapons?

John Kerry warned Russia on Thursday that the Syrian issue “is not a game.”

Secretary of State John Kerry warns the United Nations from the State Department to act on Syrian chemical weapons ahead of next week's General Assembly.
National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
Sept. 19, 2013, 11:53 a.m.

The U.N. Gen­er­al As­sembly con­venes next week, and Sec­ret­ary of State John Kerry is not tak­ing any chances on Syr­ia.

As world lead­ers con­verge on New York on Wed­nes­day, the U.S. will press the U.N. Se­cur­ity Coun­cil to fi­nal­ize a mech­an­ism to find and des­troy Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al-weapons stock­pile, a deal that Kerry and Rus­si­an For­eign Min­is­ter Sergei Lav­rov agreed to over the week­end. But while there was an agree­ment between these two na­tions, they still re­main di­vided over the fun­da­ment­al point that led to this agree­ment, and pre­vi­ously a mil­it­ary threat from the U.S.: who was re­spons­ible for a chem­ic­al-weapons at­tack that killed more than 1,000 people.

The find­ings from a U.N. re­port re­leased this week “were as cat­egor­ic­al as they were con­vin­cing” that the Syr­i­an gov­ern­ment — and not op­pos­i­tion fight­ers — car­ried out the at­tack, Kerry said from the State De­part­ment on Thursday. While Syr­i­an Pres­id­ent Bashar al-As­sad said in an in­ter­view with Fox News on Thursday that he had not read the U.N. re­port and could not com­ment on it, Rus­sia has already lam­basted it, call­ing it biased and in­com­plete.

Des­pite this dis­agree­ment, any sort of fi­nal­ized plan re­gard­ing Syr­ia’s weapons is de­pend­ent on co­oper­a­tion from the Se­cur­ity Coun­cil, and more spe­cific­ally between the U.S. and Rus­sia.

But Kerry’s com­ments were not only a warn­ing to Rus­sia and the rest of the in­ter­na­tion­al com­munity, they also served as a flat-out re­but­tal to As­sad’s com­ments since the at­tack. Kerry said, “This fight about Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al weapons is not a game,” and the U.N. must act.

“I would say to the com­munity of na­tions, time is short,” he said. “Let’s not spend time de­bat­ing what we already know. In­stead, we have to re­cog­nize that the world is watch­ing to see wheth­er we can avert mil­it­ary ac­tion and achieve through peace­ful means even more than what those mil­it­ary strikes prom­ised.”

And while Syr­ia and Rus­sia have blamed pre­vi­ous chem­ic­al-weapons at­tacks on the op­pos­i­tion fight­ers, whom As­sad has dubbed “ter­ror­ists,” Kerry said Thursday that “there’s not a shred of evid­ence” that the op­pos­i­tion has the cap­ab­il­it­ies to carry out such an at­tack.

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