Wednesday 28 August 2013

Towards Washington's 'limited strike'

All pretense at 'legality' has been dropped: White House spokesman, Jay Carney described the UN weapons inspectors as 'redundant' as the US already has all the 'evidence' it needs.

UK and US finalise plans for military strikes against Syrian regime
Arab League backs allies' judgment that Bashar al-Assad's regime was responsible for Damascus chemical attacks

27 January, 2013

Britain and the US are finalising plans to launch limited punitive military strikes at the end of the week against the regime of Bashar al-Assad over the "abhorrent" use of chemical weapons near the Syrian capital, Damascus, last week.

As the Arab League threw its weight behind the allies' judgment that the Assad regime was responsible for the chemical attack, the US and Britain paved the way for intervention, saying it would be a response to a violation of international law and not aimed at regime change.

General Sir Nick Houghton, chief of the defence staff, will outline to a meeting on Wednesday of the UK's National Security Council (NSC) a series of arm's-length options for targeted attacks against Syria.

Houghton, who is expected to reiterate the military's misgivings about entering the conflict, is expected to tell ministers the UK could assist US forces with cruise missile strikes launched from submarines, warships and aircraft against targets such as command and control bunkers.

David Cameron announced a recall of parliament on Thursday to allow MPs to formally debate the proposed intervention.

The Commons is expected to endorse military action – with a handful of rebels on all sides – after Ed Miliband indicated on Tuesday evening that Labour will reluctantly support the government motion, which will closely refer to international law.

Cameron said any use of chemical weapons was "morally indefensible and completely wrong," adding that any action taken "would have to be legal, would have to be proportionate. It would have to be specifically to deter the future use of chemical weapons".

Without spelling out any detailed plans, he signalled limited action. "This is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war or changing our stance in Syria or going further into that conflict. It is nothing to do with that. It is about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong, and the world shouldn't stand idly by."

The next step towards military strikes – which could be launched between late on Thursday, following the vote at Westminster, and the end of the weekend – is expected to be taken on Wednesday when John Kerry, the US secretary of state, releases more information linking the Assad regime to the chemical weapons attack on the Ghouta area east of Damascus.

Kerry is expected to say there is definitive proof linking the regime to the attack on the basis of "open sources" such as evidence from international doctors, a judgment that only the regime could have launched such a large attack, and intercept intelligence of Syrian communications from, among others, the Israelis.

Kerry's judgment is expected to be followed by a decision by Barack Obama on the exact form of a military strike, which will be designed to act as a deterrent to prevent the future use of chemical weapons by Assad or any other regime.

The White House made clear that the action would not be designed to widen the Syrian conflict or overthrow the regime. Spokesman Jay Carney said: "The options that we are considering are not about regime change." He later added: "There has to be a response to that clear violation of international norms."

Cameron is expected to be able to brief MPs on a joint British, US and French decision on military action when he makes a statement to MPs at 2.30pm on Thursday. This will follow a morning meeting of the full cabinet which is expected to endorse a recommendation from the NSC.

The White House made clear that Obama is gearing up for a military response when it said it was "preposterous" to suggest the Assad regime was not responsible for the attack. British and US sources say that, in the absence of a UN security council resolution, the allies need to provide definitive proof of regime involvement to provide legal cover for a military strike.

Carney gave a taste of the Kerry statement when he said: "The regime has already used chemical weapons in this conflict against its own people on a small scale. It has maintained firm control of the stockpiles of chemical weapons in Syria.

"It has the rockets and the rocket capability that were employed in this chemical weapons attack and it was engaged in an assault against these neighbourhoods prior to the use of chemical weapons and in the aftermath of the use of these chemical weapons. You would have to be credulous indeed to entertain an alternative scenario."

In a sign that Barack Obama believes he has the legal authority, independently of Congress, to launch a strike, Carney said that allowing the chemical weapons attack to go unanswered would be a "threat to the United States".

The White House indicated that the allies would sidestep the UN after Russia, which has the power of veto, denounced the gathering momentum towards western armed intervention, predicting it would have disastrous consequences across the region. The deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, tweeted that the west was behaving towards the Islamic world "like a monkey with a grenade".

Russia began evacuating its nationals wishing to flee Syria on Tuesday in anticipation of air strikes, providing space on a cargo plane which had been delivering food aid to the Mediterranean city of Latakia.

Carney said the work of weapons inspectors now was Damascus was "redundant" because it has already been established that chemical weapons were used by Syria on a large scale.

He declined to say whether the US Congress would be required to authorise any military strike, or be recalled as has happened in Britain's parliament, but insisted the White House was consulting with leaders in the House and Senate and communicating with the chairmen of relevant congressional committees.

Legally, the UK and the US indicated they were relying on the Geneva protocol of 1925 which banned the use of chemical weapons after their deployment in the first world war.

Using similar language to Cameron, Nick Clegg said: "If we stand idly by we set a very dangerous precedent indeed where brutal dictators and brutal rulers will feel they can get away with using chemical weapons. What we are considering is a serious response to that. What we are not considering is regime change, trying to topple the Assad regime, trying to settle the civil war in Syria one way or another."

Miliband indicated that, in the light of the careful wording by the prime minister and his deputy, Labour could support a government motion. He said: "The use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians is abhorrent and cannot be ignored. When I saw the prime minister this afternoon I said to him the Labour party would consider supporting international action, but only on the basis that it was legal, that it was specifically limited to deterring the future use of chemical weapons and that any action contemplated had clear and achievable military goals. We will be scrutinising any action contemplated on that basis."

Although the White House has not formally announced it is planning military action, administration officials appear to have been sanctioned to brief on the types of military force being contemplated. Reports citing unnamed figures administration indicate the US is contemplating an attacks, which could occur as soon as Thursday, and are likely to be limited missile or long-range air strikes.

The chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff of the US military, General Martin Dempsey, told Congress last month that even "limited standoff strikes" against Syria would require hundreds of aircraft, ships and submarines and could cost billions of dollars.

While such action would "degrade regime capabilities" and lead to defections, Dempsey told the House Foreign Affairs committee, there was a risk of retaliatory attacks and "collateral damage impacting civilians". He also warned of "unintended consequences" of any military intervention in the complex civil war.

Obama reportedly considering two-day strike on Syria

White House officials say the United States may launch a limited military strike on Syria as early as this Thursday as the intelligence community prepares to release

27 January, 2013

Senior officials in the Obama administration told the Washington Post for an article published on Tuesday that the White House is weighing a limited strike on Syria and said on condition of anonymity that “We’re actively looking at the various legal angles that would inform a decision.”

According to the Post, the likely response from Washington would be a sea-to-land strike from the Mediterranean that would last no longer than two days and would not be directed towards targets where the chemical weapons arsenal is believed to be stored.

But while an attack is all but imminent and will likely be launched from warships already mobilized in the Mediterranean by the week’s end, public support in the US has teetered towards nil as of late. The Obama administration says there is undeniable proof that chemical weapons were used on civilians outside of Damascus on August 21, but a five-day-long Reuters poll taken during that time concluded only nine percent of Americans favor intervention.

Notwithstanding that lack of support, US Secretary of State John Kerry hinted Monday at a response which will jolt Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and ideally worsen the odds that his regime will implement chemical warheads again.

An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on August 26, 2013 allegedly shows a UN inspectors (C) visiting a hospital in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyet al-Sham. (AFP Photo)An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on August 26, 2013 allegedly shows a UN inspectors (C) visiting a hospital in the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyet al-Sham. (AFP Photo)

Despite insistence from Assad and allies in Russia that the Syrian government is not guilty of using chemical weapons, Sec. Kerry said during a press conference on Monday that “our understanding of what has already happened in Syria is grounded in facts, informed by conscious and guided by common sense.” Kerry called Assad’s reported attempt to cover-up the alleged use of chemical weapons “cynical” and said, “President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world’s heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people.”

One day earlier, Sec. Kerry admitted that Pres. Obama was considering his options with regards to a strike and was to meet with lawmakers in Congress as well as with international leaders. According to the Post article, however, the president may forego getting approval from Capitol Hill and will instead rely on striking Syria due to “undeniable,” as the White House puts it, war crimes.

The administration has said that it will follow international law in shaping its response,” Karen DeYoung and Anne Gearan wrote for the Post, adding, “But much of international law is untested, and administration lawyers are also examining possible legal justifications based on a violation of international prohibitions on chemical weapons use, or on an appeal for assistance from a neighboring nation such as Turkey.” Additionally, the US has already received assurance of support from Britain, France and Turkey.

(FILE PHOTO) The guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg (CG 64) (L) and the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) transiting the Strait of Gibraltar on their way to the Mediterranean Sea. (AFP Photo / Jamie Cosby)(FILE PHOTO) The guided-missile cruiser USS Gettysburg (CG 64) (L) and the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75) transiting the Strait of Gibraltar on their way to the Mediterranean Sea. (AFP Photo / Jamie Cosby)

According to senior administration officials who spoke to CBS News on condition of anonymity, Pres. Obama met with his national security team this past weekend and has ordered that a declassified intelligence report showing the rationale for any attack on Syria be released before it occurs.

While only nine percent of the respondents polled in the Reuters survey between August 19 and 23 said they want the White House to respond to Assad’s reported use of chemical weapons immediately, 25 percent said they would favor intervention if the US concludes with certainty that those warheads were illegally used. A Reuters/Ipsos poll from earlier in the month found that 30.2 percent of Americans would support intervention if Assad is linked to using chemical weapons.

Sec. Kerry said the indiscriminate slaughter of women and children apparently being carried out by the Assad regime constitutes a “moral obscenity.”

Muscle-Flexing: UK deploys warplanes in Cyprus, 100km from Syria

Russia ‘regrets’ US decision to shelve Syria talks
Moscow has voiced “regret” over a US decision to put off bilateral talks over Syria. Russia has sought to placate calls for military action over the alleged use of chemical weapons, saying there is no evidence of the Assad regime’s complicity.

27 January, 2013

The US government announced it was postponing bilateral talks with Russia late Monday, citing “ongoing consultations” over the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons.

Russian and American officials had been scheduled to meet in The Hague on Wednesday for bilateral talks on the Syrian conflict.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov tweeted a response to the move Tuesday morning, expressing concern over Washington’s decision.

It is a pity that our western partners have decided to cancel the bilateral US-Russian meeting to discuss calls for an international conference on Syria,” Gatilov wrote on Twitter. He added in a later post that discussing terms for a political solution were needed now more than ever in the face of possible military intervention in Syria.

Russia on Tuesday warned a military intervention in Syria could have "catastrophic consequences" for the whole region and called on the international community to show "prudence."

"Attempts to bypass the 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," foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement. "We are calling on our American partners and all members of the world community to demonstrate prudence (and) strict observance of international law, especially the fundamental principles of the UN Charter," he added.

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Fedorenko)Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Gennady Gatilov (RIA Novosti / Vladimir Fedorenko)

Foreign Affairs Committee chairman of the Russian Duma, Aleksey Pushkov also posted on his Twitter, alleging the US had already made the decision to strike Syria and they had gone too far.

Russia has no plans to strengthen its fleet in the region at the Mediterranean sea facility, the naval base at Tartus, a source from Russia’s Defense Ministry told Itar-Tass news agency, adding that withdrawal plans have also not been considered. However , the source did not exclude the possibility that one more military vessel might be transferred to the region from Russia’s Black Sea fleet and one nuclear submarine added from the North Sea fleet.

A number of western countries including France, the US and the UK have condemned President Bashar Assad’s government for last week’s alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb and called for a response, hinting at possible military action. On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin told British Prime Minster David Cameron in a phone conversation that there was still no evidence the Assad government was behind the attack.

However, Cameron insisted that Assad’s forces were behind the “chemical weapons” attack, saying that the Syrian opposition did not have the facilities to orchestrate such an attack. Cameron also cited the Syrian government’s delay in allowing a team of UN experts to examine the site as an indication that it had something to hide.

Washington has also seen an increase in rhetoric, urging action against the Assad government. Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to the UN, decried the Assad government for the attack on her Twitter account, and demanded accountability.

Haunting images of entire families dead in their beds. Verdict is clear: Assad has used CWs against civilians in violation of int'l norm.
— Samantha Power (@AmbassadorPower) August 27, 2013

Meanwhile, the UN weapons inspectors are due to start their second day of investigations in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where the toxic attack happened last Wednesday. The team’s convoy of vehicles came under fire from unknown assailants Monday as they visited the area.

In spite of the sniper attack, the team managed to collect samples for analysis and gather witness testimonies at a local hospital. Contradicting claims from the US and UK that the probe was too late to yield accurate results, the UN stressed the mission was still valid, although almost a week has passed since the supposed attack.

The alleged attack took place last Wednesday in an eastern suburb of Syria’s capital. Media published conflicting reports on the death toll, ranging from “dozens” to over 1,300 dead. French charity Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) put the death toll at about 355

Russia warns West against Syria attack without UN vote

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