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.
What We're Following See More »
Agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives " used a web of shadowy cigarette sales to funnel tens of millions of dollars into a secret bank account," according to a federal racketeering lawsuit filed by a group of tobacco farmers who claim they were "swindled out of $24 million." The agents allegedly used shipments of snack food disguised as tobacco. The Justice Department is reportedly investigating the matter, though as of now it is unclear how widespread the practice was or if it is still ongoing.
Sen. Susan Collins, who sits on the Intelligence Committee, "said on Wednesday she's open to using a subpoena to investigate President Donald Trump's tax returns for potential connections to Russia." She said the committee is also open to subpoenaing Trump himself. "This is a counter-intelligence operation in many ways," she said of Russia's interference. "That's what our committee specializes in. We are used to probing in depth in this area."
"Top lawyers who helped the Obama White House craft and hold to rules of conduct believe President Donald Trump and his staff will break ethics norms meant to guard against politicization of the government — and they’ve formed a new group to prepare, and fight. United to Protect Democracy, which draws its name from a line in President Barack Obama’s farewell address that urged his supporters to pick up where he was leaving off, has already raised a $1.5 million operating budget, hired five staffers and has plans to double that in the coming months." Meanwhile, NPR has launched a "Trump Ethics Monitor" to track the resolution of ten ethics-related promises that the president has made.
Over a meatloaf lunch at the White House last week, Donald Trump offered the job of Labor secretary to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a longtime loyalist. Christie promptly turned down the offer, once again signaling that he has no desire to move to Washington, D.C. to join the Trump administration. The job ended up going to Alexander Acosta, who is expected to sail through the Senate confirmation process.