John Kerry set to test Russia on Syria weapons

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“Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it,” Putin wrote. “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 he favored taking advantage of Syria’s willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control and welcomed Obama’s interest in continuing to discuss Syria with Russia.

“If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust,” he wrote. “It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues.”

American ships in the Mediterranean Sea remained ready to strike Syria if ordered, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said. Syrian rebels appeared skeptical that U.S. forces would be put to use, saying the Americans have repeatedly reneged on promises to assist their rebellion. They pointed to Obama’s statement in June that he would provide lethal aid to the rebels.

Meanwhile, Assad’s forces have gained the advantage.

“We’re on our own,” Mohammad Joud, an opposition fighter in the war-shattered northern city of Aleppo, said via Skype. “I always knew that, but thanks to Obama’s shameful conduct, others are waking up to this reality as well.”

Ayham Kamel, a Middle East analyst at the Eurasia Group in London, said the Syrian opposition will struggle with morale and sense of purpose.

“Assad’s regime is going to be stronger because while they’ve agreed to give up their chemical weapons, they get to keep everything else to fight the opposition that has lost territory in the past year and has now suffered a big blow,” Kamel said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to put a deadline on diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff but said bringing Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile under international control “obviously will take some time.”

“Russia is now putting its prestige on the line,” Carney said Wednesday. Asked if U.S. prestige also was on the line, Carney responded: “The United States leads in these situations. And it’s not always popular and it’s not always comfortable.”

On Capitol Hill, action on any congressional resolution authorizing U.S. military intervention in Syria was on hold, even an alternative that would have reflected Russia’s diplomatic offer. Senators instead debated an energy bill.

“The whole terrain has changed,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters after a meeting of Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We want to make sure we do nothing that’s going to derail what’s going on.”

That didn’t stop Republicans from announcing their opposition to Obama’s initial call for military strikes and criticizing the commander in chief. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., accused the president of engaging in “pinball diplomacy.”

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Associated Press writers Julie Pace, Nancy Benac, Donna Cassata, Nedra Pickler and Josh Lederman in Washington; Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations; and Barbara Surk and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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