Broader Syria peace talks? Chemical weapons first

GENEVA (AP) — The top diplomats from the United States and Russia raised hopes for reviving broader talks to end the Syrian civil war Friday, even as they showed scant progress in hurried efforts to tackle one horrific part — the chemical weapons fired on civilians. U.N. inspectors prepared to turn in their own poison gas report this weekend.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he expected the inspectors to release “an overwhelming report” that chemical weapons were indeed used on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21. The chief inspector, Ake Sellstrom, told The Associated Press the report was ready, but he wouldn’t comment on its conclusions.

Leading the central talks in Geneva, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made clear that any prospects for restarting broad peace negotiations depend on first settling the standoff over chemical weapons. But they didn’t disclose any clear movement since their meetings began Thursday with Kerry’s dismissal of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s offer to begin by turning over information, not weapons, starting weeks from now after signing an international convention.

Meanwhile, Kerry and Lavrov met with U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi about the potential for a new Geneva peace conference. Kerry said he, Lavrov and Brahimi agreed to meet around Sept. 28 on the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly meetings in New York.

“We are committed to try to work together, beginning with this initiative on the chemical weapons, in hopes that those efforts could pay off and bring peace and stability to a war-torn part of the world,” he said.

Kerry, flanked by Lavrov and Brahimi, told reporters after an hour-long meeting that the chances for a second peace conference in Geneva will require success first with the chemical weapons talks, which he said had been “constructive” so far.

UN: Report will

show chemical weapons use

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday he believes there will be “an overwhelming report” from U.N. inspectors that chemical weapons were used in an attack in Syria on Aug. 21, but he did not say who was responsible.

The Syrian government and rebels blame each other for the attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

The U.N. inspectors have a mandate to determine whether chemical weapons were used — and if so, which agent — not to establish who was responsible. But two U.N. diplomats said the report could point to the perpetrators, saying that the inspectors collected many samples from the attack and also interviewed doctors and witnesses.

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