From Jim Sciutto traveling with Secretary Kerry in Geneva
As Secretary Kerry and his team land in Geneva, I get a clear sense of them heading into these crucial talks with the Russians with a healthy dose of skepticism. As one official said to me, this is a test of whether the Russians and more importantly the Syrians are serious. Both sides are bringing their experts on chemical weapons, security, and more – all to assess whether there is a credible way forward to catalogue, collect and destroy Assad's massive arsenal of chemical weapons. These next 48 hours will determine if there is a diplomatic way out of this.
"We can test whether there is a credible and authentic way forward here – that the Russians mean what they say – as importantly, more importantly probably, that Assad means what he says and that we can move forward with a program that is verifiable, that can happen expeditiously and that Assad cannot have access to and continue to use chemical weapons against his own people," a senior administration official told me aboard the plane as we flew to Geneva.
Administration officials say the intended outcome of the meetings is to get an "outline of what a way forward may look like" which they can then take to Britain, France, China, and others to build support for a resolution at the United Nations Security Council.
When asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s article in the New York Times, officials say the process in Geneva will still go forward.
"We have had preliminary conversations and the discussion has always been of Assad's weapons, weapons acknowledged by Assad regime itself," an official said. That is, whatever Putin says in the Times, they are all still here to discuss ridding Syria of CW.
But officials admit the difficulty of removing weapons from an active war-zone, saying this will be "very hard". This is "not a permissive environment,” officials say despite the fact that the bulk of the chemical weapons are in regime-controlled areas.
And how can you trust Assad as a partner notwithstanding the standing U.S. policy that calls for him to leave power?
“There are ways we will know the Syrians are serious," an official told me.
Administration officials also go into these talks in Geneva clear-eyed of what the Syrian opposition thinks of them.
The opposition are "upset and don't trust this at all,” one official said. “ We are telling them not to pre-judge"