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
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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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