News Column

U.S. Postpones Meeting with Russia on Syria

August 27, 2013
President Obama

The United States postponed meeting with Russia on Syria as U.S. officials mulled a response to what they say is the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons.

A source at the State Department told CBS News the meeting was scheduled for Wednesday at The Hague, Netherlands, between Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and U.S. Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, and a delegation of their Russian counterparts.

On the agenda was to have been consideration of an international peace conference aimed at ending Syria's civil war, which began in March 2011 when protesters demonstrated peacefully against President Bashar Assad's rule.

"We will work with our Russian counterparts to reschedule the meeting," the department official said.

Russian officials expressed regret the United States canceled the meeting, ITAR-Tass reported.

"It is regrettable that the partners have decided to cancel the bilateral Russian-U.S. meeting to discuss issues of calling an international conference on Syria," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov posted on his Twitter account. "The development of the Syrian political resolution parameters would be extremely useful at a time when use of force against Syria is impending."

On Tuesday, China and Russia warned against a Western-led strike on Syria in response to the alleged chemical weapons use, The Financial Times reported.

The announcements were in response to increasing calls for military intervention as U.N. inspectors, for a second time, reportedly were forced to delay visiting the site of last week's alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians in a Damascus suburb, the Times said. The reason for the delay was not available.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency said in a commentary it should be remembered that the second war in Iraq was triggered by U.S. allegations of use of weapons of mass destruction that proved to be wrong.

Xinhua urged no action be taken before the U.N. inspectors complete their work.

"Such rhetoric, as well as the recent flurry of consultations between Washington and its allies, indicates that they have put the arrow on the bowstring and would shoot even without a U.N. mandate," the commentary said.

Russia reiterated its opposition to intervention Tuesday.

"Attempts to bypass the [U.N.] Security Council, once again to create artificial groundless excuses for a military intervention in the region are fraught with new suffering in Syria and catastrophic consequences for other countries of the Middle East and north Africa," Russia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

President Obama is likely to order a limited airstrike on Syria to punish it for using nerve gas but won't seek to topple the Assad regime, U.S. officials told The Washington Post.

The strike, whose timing was left open but described as all but inevitable, would likely be conducted with Britain and perhaps other allies, and would probably last only a day or two, officials said.

It would probably involve long-range guided cruise missiles launched from sea or from bomber aircraft, the officials said.

Missile-armed U.S. warships are positioned in the Mediterranean Sea. A British nuclear-powered submarine is also in the Mediterranean and several British warships are on their way.

British military aircraft are building up at a large Royal Air Force base on the island of Cyprus, the British newspaper The Guardian reported.

The probable U.S.-British-led attack, which might have French, German and other allied support, would be characterized by extreme precision and incisiveness to avoid drawing the United States into deeper involvement in Syria's civil war, Obama administration officials told several news organizations.

They would also not seek to cripple Assad's military or change the balance of forces on the ground, the officials told the Post and The New York Times.

But at the same time, the Assad regime will be held accountable for the "undeniable" use of chemical weapons, Secretary of State John Kerry said at the State Department Monday.

He called the "indiscriminate slaughter of civilians" and the "cynical attempt" by the Assad regime to cover up its responsibility a "cowardly crime."

Evidence gathered by U.N. weapons inspectors in Syria was important but not needed to prove what is already "grounded in facts, informed by conscience and guided by common sense," Kerry said.

Assad told Russian newspaper Izvestia in an interview published Monday accusations his forces used chemical weapons were an "outrage against common sense."

He warned U.S. officials a military intervention in Syria would bring "failure just like in all the previous wars they waged, starting with Vietnam and up to the present day."

The Assad regime and Russia have suggested opposition rebels were responsible for the chemical attack -- an argument Kerry said was impossible to take seriously.

Source: Copyright UPI 2013. 2013. Distributed by MCT Information Services

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