State Department officials at the United Nations briefed reporters Tuesday about Syria arms talks that day between Secretary of State John F. Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
From the briefing, it appears the Obama administration is backing away from an outline "framework" arms agreement reached in Geneva with the Russians that states any Syrian violations of chemical arms dismantlement would be met with a "Chapter 7" response under the U.N. Charter. That section authorizes the use of military force under the U.N. Security Council.
According to the officials, it now appears Russian officials have prevailed in seeking to keep formal references to Chapter 7 out of two draft documents on the Syrian arms deal.
The Kerry-Lavrov talks were described as "constructive," diplomatic-speak for cautious optimism, said senior officials who spoke to reporters at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York.
The discussions focused on turning the informal Geneva framework into a formal U.N. Security Council resolution and a separate agreement for the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
At issue in the talks is whether a verifiable and enforceable plan can be put in place to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons, estimated to include at least 1,000 tons of blister and nerve agents.
"This is a unique challenge in terms of both the size of the program that is to be destroyed as well as the conditions under which this endeavor will be undertaken," namely during a sectarian civil war, said one of the officials, all of whom spoke on background.
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is now working with Vitaly Churkin, Russia's U.N. ambassador, to deal with "three or four key conceptual hurdles" to the two formal dismantlement documents, they said.
"In the end game, what we need is a binding, enforceable, verifiable regime that stands the very, very best chance of implementing a framework agreement and removing the chemical stockpiles from Syria," a senior official said.
The United States wants to ensure that "consequences" to noncompliance are stated clearly in the agreements, although the officials said the talks now are not focused on specific language requiring the use of force against Syria if it fails to give up its poison gas weapons.
The senior official said it is hoped the agreement will "make sure that we don't leave any loopholes, to make sure that we don't leave any ambiguity or disagreement."
Final texts will outline what Syria must do, how the disarmament will take place, and what actions will take place if there are violations.
The Geneva framework called for Chapter 7 measures.
However, Russia is opposing specific references to possible military force in the Syria deal, arguing that any noncompliance would require an additional U.N. resolution on the use of force. Critics say that tactic would allow Moscow to use its Security Council veto power to block any authorization for attacks.
Asked about linking the use of force to Syrian noncompliance, one official said: "The goal here is if this agreement is not complied with, there will be consequences."
However, apparently any consequences would not be specified in the resolution or the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons accord.
The senior official defended the anticipated vagueness on the use of force.
"You can't, at this stage, predict or plan for every eventuality," the official said. "You can set out an understanding both in the OPCW context and in the U.N. Security Council resolution context that if there are violations, we all know what needs to happen next."
WARNING ON KENYA ATTACK
A report from Africa in the aftermath of the deadly al-Shabab terrorist attack on a Nairobi shopping mall indicates Kenya's intelligence agency had advance warning that the al Qaeda-linked group was planning attacks.
The Kenya National Intelligence Service reported in August that an al-Shabab cell had been activated in the coastal city of Mombasa, according to an intelligence report obtained by the Nairobi newspaper, The Standard.
The report said four al-Shabab terrorists had traveled to Mombasa from Somalia around Aug. 15 to join a terrorist cell in the Mtopanga section of the city. The cell included two Islamist clerics.
The terrorists were described as "newly trained jihadists with a mission to strike targets in Mombasa and Nairobi to mark the first anniversary of the Aug. 27, 2012, killing of radical Islamist Sheikh Aboud Rogo," the newspaper said.
The Kenyan cleric was shot 17 times by unidentified gunmen, as he was driving his wife to a hospital.
"The two [al-Shabab] clerics were to coordinate attacks against shopping malls, police stations, churches and other installation, as Mombasa prepared to mark several functions, including a presidential visit," the report said.
Mombasa County Police Cmdr. Robert Kitur acknowledged that Kenyan officials were aware of the al-Shabab plot.
"Yes, we are aware of that intelligence report, and we know that there are plans by al-Shabab to attack functions that are highly populated," he said.
The location of the four al-Shabab jihadists who were in Mombasa is not known. Officials told the newspaper that they may have been in Nairobi or that the activation in Mombasa was a diversion prior to the mall attack in Nairobi.
At least 67 people were killed and more than 150 were wounded Saturday in the shopping mall assault by terrorists armed with grenades and assault rifles who battled security forces for four days.
The al-Shabab operation raised concerns that the Somali terrorist group is expanding its operations outside the Horn of Africa, including possibly in the United States.
Timothy R. Furnish, a counterterrorism specialist, however, said he doubts the group will conduct U.S. strikes.
Mr. Furnish said al-Shabab is an al Qaeda affiliate that is being challenged by a pan-Sufi Islamic trend called Ahl al-Sunnah wa-al-Jamaah.
"Covertly supported by the United States, [Ahl al-Sunnah] has greatly reduced al-Shabab's area of control in Somalia — but obviously it has not eliminated it," he said in a brief report.
"Al-Shabab, for all its east African nastiness, is not a threat to the United States, and claims that it will become so via the Somali expatriate communities here are far-fetched at best.
"Al-Shabab is, however, a serious terrorist threat in the Horn of Africa and, as it continues to build links to Boko Haram [terrorists] in Nigeria and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, among others, to the entire African continent — particularly Christians therein."
NSA CHIEF ON SNOWDEN
National Security Agency Director Gen. Keith B. Alexander said Wednesday that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden has harmed U.S. national security and helped America's enemies by disclosing the agency's secrets.
Gen. Alexander also suggested that both China and Russia gained access to the stolen classified documents held by Mr. Snowden, whom the general described as an "IT administrator responsible for moving data to a common website."
"We trusted him, and he betrayed that trust," Gen. Alexander said during a speech at a cybersecurity conference.
"But that doesn't make [Snowden] a hero, stealing our data, going to China and going to Russia and doing what he's done to this country," he said.
Gen. Alexander said the disclosures by Mr. Snowden damaged NSA's electronic intelligence capabilities and will help U.S. enemies.
"I'll tell you the people that learn from this are the ones that will hurt our nation and hurt our people. They will learn from it," he said. "And the tools that were so effective over the past decade will not be as effective in the future."
One of the most damaging recent disclosures by Snowden is a top-secret security classification guide revealing a program code-named BULLRUN on the agency's most sensitive capabilities: electronic code-breaking.
"Project BULLRUN deals with NSA's abilities to defeat the encryption used in specific network communication technologies," according to a document published Sept. 5 by Britain's Guardian newspaper. "BULLRUN involves multiple sources, all of which are extremely sensitive."
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