Obama administration offers timeline for new Syria diplomacy
September 10th, 2013
05:01 PM ET
12 months ago

Obama administration offers timeline for new Syria diplomacy

Washington (CNN) - After U.S. officials attempted to explain Secretary of State John Kerry's invitation to Syria to abandon its chemical weapons as "rhetorical," the Obama administration is now offering a timeline to make the case the top U.S. diplomat's remarks may have been less accidental than previously acknowledged.

At a news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague Monday, Kerry appeared to give Syrian president Bashar al-Assad an opportunity to avoid a U.S. military strike.

"Turn it over, all of it, without delay," Kerry said.

A senior administration official said Kerry's comment in response to a reporter's question came after weeks of discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

As soon as Kerry made the remarks, the official said, he spoke with Lavrov in a pre-scheduled phone call. It was during that conversation, the official said, that Kerry demanded a plan from the Russians. Lavrov, the official said, promised a response.

Hours later, Russia unveiled its plan for Syria to surrender its chemical weapon stockpiles.

A senior administration official said Kerry followed his conversation with Lavrov with another call to the White House to discuss his conversation with the Russian Foreign Minister.

But administration officials say Obama and Putin have been quietly discussing Syria's chemical weapons for nearly a year. Both leaders later appointed their top diplomats, Kerry and Lavrov, to continue the discussions.

While Obama and Putin reportedly have a chilly relationship, the administration official said that is hardly the case between Kerry and Lavrov.

Since the August 21 chemical attack in suburban Damascus, Kerry and Lavrov have had nine conversations about Syria's arsenal, the official said.

The issue arose again between Obama and Putin at last week's Group of 20 conference in St. Petersburg.

But until Monday, the negotiations lacked a mechanism for Russia to get involved, which came, in part, from congressional debate over potential military strikes in Syria, the official said.

The new push for diplomacy, the official insisted, was not planned ahead of time. It was diplomacy in real time, the official said.

At a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Kerry said the latest plan to deal with Syria's chemical weapons amounted to an American challenge to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"Yesterday, we challenged the regime to turn them over to the secure control of the international community so that they could be destroyed. And that, of course, would be the ultimate way to degrade and deter Assad'sarsenal. It is the ideal weapon – ideal way to take this weapon away from him," he said.

Administration officials said the diplomatic developments will have an impact on the president's speech to the nation Tuesday night. One White House official said there is now less pressure for a congressional vote for a military strike.


Filed under: Congress • President Obama • Russia • Syria
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. A Kickin' Donkey

    Time is of the Essence –

    In 4 days, we should have contatiner ships ready to dock at Syrian ports

    In 14 days, those ships should be leaving the ports and moving 250 miles offshore.

    On the 15th day, if those ships do not hold all the Syrian Chemical weapons stockpiles, the US should unilaterally launch 10 Tomohawk cruise missiles at Syrian planes, rocket launchers, radar sites, armories, etc.

    On the 16th day the US should launch 20 missiles, on the 17th day 40 missiles, on the 18th day 80 missiles, on the 19th day 160 missiles, on the 20th day 320 missiles. On the 21st day, in honor of the victims of the August 21 attack, there should be a day of silence free from expoosions.

    September 10, 2013 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  2. Matt

    It works like this, you have a UNSC resolution that authorizes and UNSCOM, states that Syria has WMD and must handover and allow access to all sites and the weapons must be destroyed. Assad is going to play the Saddam game so UNSCOM complain to the SG, the SG informs the UNSC of the breaches and no compliance. Now the Russians come into play. 1. The UNSC issue a weakly word statement. It happens again 2. A non binding resolution. And again. 3. A weakly worded and soft resolution. And again. This is where things get interesting. 4. Sanctions are raised and start weak to a increasing level over months to years as Russia seek to water them down, due to numerous cases of non compliance and hinderance of UNSCOM. Finally after a few years 5. A Chapter 7 is sought at the UNSC Russia veto it and a coalition of countries act unilaterally to enforce the UNSC disarmament resolution by military force. At this point 6. Russia either support increased much harsh sanctions to avoid unilateral action. In which case back on the non compliance sanctions merry go round. 7. Chapter 7 again is introduced at which point Russia running out of playing cards either supports it to limit the scope of the military action taken or veto it and unilateral action occurs. This could go on from around 3 years to a decade.

    September 10, 2013 05:35 pm at 5:35 pm |
  3. Gurgyl

    Bomb the hell out of Syria. Syria knows us then just like Saddam, Bin Laden.

    September 10, 2013 05:39 pm at 5:39 pm |
  4. smith

    We should do nothing here. Assad is doing us a favor by killig off AQ, radical sunni`s, and basic criminal element. The Obama middle eastren revolution has been a complete failure. Just look at Egypt, Libya, and Iraq.

    September 10, 2013 07:13 pm at 7:13 pm |
  5. Tom

    What if Kerry didn't make the erroneous comment?

    September 10, 2013 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  6. Wes

    Check with Putin on the timeline.

    September 10, 2013 07:23 pm at 7:23 pm |
  7. Richard Long

    Some one please take this child-we-call-Obama's crayons away!!! He is drawing red lines all over the place. So help me... That's why we can't have nice things any more...

    September 10, 2013 08:55 pm at 8:55 pm |
  8. S. B. Stein

    I don't mind the new diplomatic idea. The problem is that we need to have a back up plan when Russia and Syria screw up. The Congress needs to be able to say that if there are screw ups, we nail them along with our allies.

    September 10, 2013 10:33 pm at 10:33 pm |
  9. Mike W

    So what's the timeline?

    September 11, 2013 12:12 am at 12:12 am |
  10. ValleyMuse

    When did the U.S. become the U.N.? The U.N. has known since May that the rebels used chemical weapons. Civil war with terror groups. This is NOT World War material folks!

    September 11, 2013 12:18 am at 12:18 am |
  11. Name retired chinmeysweep

    Well by the time Obama and the congress decide to do something or not to do something .. Israel will have netrulized the problem. They have their own drones and crude missiles.

    September 11, 2013 12:43 am at 12:43 am |
  12. Name Johnnyid

    Despite the immense Obamabash, does anyone else sense a controlled and strategic plan here being executed and orchestrated by by the highest levels of power? This could be a watershed moment in the emergence of a new America that uses its power in much more subtle ways to achieve complex objectives.

    September 11, 2013 01:34 am at 1:34 am |