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US and Russia fail to agree date for Syria conference

January 30, 2014 at 10:00 am

The United States and Russia failed to agree a date for the Syria peace conference. They disagreed over the role that Iran might play in talks to end the civil war and over who would represent the Syrian opposition.

“We were hoping that we would be in a position to announce a date today, unfortunately we are not,” said UN Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who chaired the UN meeting in Geneva.

Brahimi spoke to a number of American and Russian officials before widening the talks to include representatives from the UK, France, China, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and the Arab League.

He said that he would meet with Russian and American officials again on November 25th, expressing hope that Syrian oppositionists would have agreed on delegates to represent them prior to the meeting.

“The opposition has a very, very difficult time. They are divided. It is no secret to anybody. They are facing all types of problems and they are not ready,” he said.

The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, expressed “scepticism” over Syria’s chemical weapons declaration to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, given Bashar al Assad’s number of broken promises over the years.

On October 27, Syria presented a lengthy declaration about its chemical weapons to the UN chemical weapons watchdog. They are expected to agree a detailed plan listing the locations of its chemical weapons and explaining the process of destruction, with the organisation by mid-November. Syria currently has a number of poisonous gases including mustard, Sarin and possibly nerve gas, VX.

“More work, of course, remains to be done to ensure that the Syrian government’s list of declared sites is comprehensive and that the process remains on track, particularly as we enter the destruction process,” said the US envoy Samantha Power.

“We are still reviewing that document. We obviously bring scepticism borne of years of dealing with this regime, years of obfuscation in other contexts, and of course a lot of broken promises in the context of this current war,” she added.

She noted that Assad’s government had so far cooperated with the joint UN-OPCW mission, which had inspected 21 out of 23 chemical weapons sites in Syria, adding that the remaining two sites were too dangerous to reach and inspect.

Syria declared the presence of 30 production, filling and storage facilities; 8 mobile filling units and 3 chemical weapons-related facilities. An OPCW document revealed that those facilities contained around 1000 tons of chemical weapons, mostly in the form of raw chemical materials, 290 tons of loaded munitions and 1230 tons of unfilled munitions.

“You will certainly hear from us in the event that we detect non-compliance or we detect significant discrepancies in their declaration,” Power told reporters after the UN Security Council was briefed on the joint UN-OPCW mission.

In related events, Reuters quoted a US official as saying that the US is reviewing intelligence information indicating that the government of President Bashar al Assad may be trying to keep some of their chemical weapons instead of turning them over and destroying them completely.

There are “indications the Syrians may be intending to hold some of their stockpile in reserve,” the US official said.

He added that it was important that the international community continue to exert pressure on the Syria government to ensure that all Syrian chemical weapons are declared and destroyed.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the US defence department declined to comment on the US concerns reported by CNN.