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September 10, 2013 2:26 pm

Obama’s Multilateral Diplomacy Disappoints Syrian Rebels; Damascus FM Says ‘Already Agreed’ to Disarmament Plan

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Free Syrian Army rebels cleaning their AK47s in Aleppo, Syria. Photo: VOA News/Wikimedia Commons.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s 11th-hour push for multilateral diplomacy to remove the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons stockpile from the country was gaining support on Tuesday, disappointing Syrian rebels ready to leverage U.S. strikes against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad to gain the upper hand in the country’s two year-long civil war, the Daily Beast-Newsweek reported, in an interview with Syrian National Coalition spokesman Khalid Saleh. Meanwhile, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem told reporters in Moscow that the regime has “already agreed” to the diplomatic solution, which calls for relinquishing all of its chemical weapons to international control, according to Agence France-Presse.

The about-face came in the final hours before a policy speech from Obama to be delivered from the Oval Office, scheduled for Tuesday evening at 9 PM EST, which the Republicans used to delay a vote on a Syria strike to Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the 9-11 terror attacks.

The Syrian National Coalition has been working with Syrian-American organizations to lobby members of Congress to support limited strikes to punish the Assad regime for the death of some 1,400 Syrians, allegedly from chemical weapons, and change the momentum on the ground in their favor, the Daily Beast-Newsweek said.

“I really believe that this regime has had so many opportunities and we shouldn’t wait. We need immediate accountability. I doubt very much that the regime would give up its stockpile of chemical weapons just to avert a strike,” Khalid Saleh, official spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, said. “The regime has committed so many crimes against humanity and was allowed to get away with it. A delay would embolden the regime more.”

Speaking on Israel Radio, Avigdor Liberman, head of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, seemed to agree with Saleh, that this may be another Iran-style stratagem to stall, as “Assad is winning time and lots of it.”

The reprieve for Syria came from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who said, in what seemed to be a throw-away line, in London on Monday, that if Assad would hand over the regime’s chemical weapons by the end of the week, the U.S. Army, which has been amassing within striking distance in the Mediterranean, would stand down. By Tuesday morning, in Moscow, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said Damascus had “already agreed” to hand over its chemical weapons stocks to international control in what he termed the “Russian initiative,” according to AFP.

“Yesterday, we had a round of very fruitful negotiations with [Russian Foreign Minister] Sergei Lavrov and he came forward with an initiative on chemical weapons,” Muallem said.

Russia’s FM Lavrov said, “We are calling on the Syrian leadership to not only agree to placing chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also on its subsequent destruction and fully joining the treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons,” according to the Associated Press. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has also come out in support of the new compromise.

But Muallem showed where Damascus’s focus lay, when he said, in Moscow, that “Already [Monday] in the evening we agreed with the Russian initiative,” as it would “knock the chair from under the legs of the American aggression.”

U.S. officials appeared to be surprised by the possibilities from the last-minute U.S.-Russia pincer movement on Syria, but, in a speech Monday afternoon, National Security Adviser Susan Rice had already laid the foundation for the change of plans.

“The fact is, President Obama has consistently demonstrated his commitment to multilateral diplomacy,” Rice, the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., said. “He would much prefer the backing of the United Nations Security Council to uphold the international ban against the use of chemical weapons, whether in the form of sanctions, accountability, or authorizing the use of force.”

But she continued, throwing water on the idea of Syria volunteering to hand over its weapons, before today’s response from Damascus via Moscow: “But let’s be realistic—it’s just not going to happen now. Believe me, I know. I was there for all of those U.N. debates and negotiations on Syria. I lived it. And it was shameful.”

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