By Barbara Starr
The Syrian regime is again moving around its stockpile of chemical weapons, leaving the United States trying to figure out what Bashar al-Assad will do next with his deadly arsenal.
CNN has learned that the U.S. intelligence community is closely watching the latest development as diplomatic efforts continue around forging a plan for al-Assad to relinquish those stockpiles to international control.
Obama administration officials at two agencies said the movement took place in recent days – since United States and Russia agreed on September 14 to a timetable for Syria to declare its chemical weapons inventory and then give them up.
“There is activity at known chemical weapons storage sites,” one official said. “What is unclear is whether they are moving them to consolidate the stockpile and then declare it, or are they moving it around to conceal it” in advance of reporting it to international inspectors.
U.S. satellites have observed truck convoys moving in and out of storage sites, but the ongoing intelligence challenge involves knowing where the trucks are headed and exactly what they are carrying, that official added.
“Call us skeptical” of Syrian intentions, the other official said.
The Pentagon has "put a proposal on the table" for U.S. military forces to train and equip moderate Syrian opposition forces for the first time, two Obama administration officials told CNN.
If approved, it would dramatically increase the role of the U.S. military in Syria's civil war and would for the first time put American troops in direct contact with opposition forces.
The idea has been under consideration since the August 21 chemical weapons attack outside Damascus, which the United States says was carried out by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
There are few specifics on troops or other aspects of the military proposal, but both officials said the effort envisions training taking place in a country near Syria.FULL STORY
By Laura Smith-Spark and Tom Cohen, CNN
Russia and the United States announced Saturday that they have reached a groundbreaking deal on a framework to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons, after talks in Switzerland.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stood side-by-side as they set out a series of steps the Syria government must follow.
Syria must submit within one week a comprehensive list of its chemical weapons stockpile, Kerry said, and international inspectors must be on the ground no later than November.
By Barbara Starr
American intelligence analysts are at odds over what the United States knows about the location of Syria's chemical weapons, CNN has learned.
Disagreement within the intelligence community surfaced over the past few weeks as spy agencies observed Syria - fearing a possible U.S. military strike - moving a significant amount of chemical weaponry, according to two U.S. officials familiar with internal discussions.
The lack of consensus raises concerns about accountability should the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad proceed with its stated intention of turning over chemical stockpiles to international control and creates potential targeting problems should the United States opt for military action, CNN has learned.
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.
By Jill Dougherty
In an extraordinary direct appeal to Americans Vladimir Putin, in a New York Times op-ed, warned that military action in Syria would only “unleash a new wave of terrorism,” denied his country is trying to protect Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and depicted himself as an ally who wants to save the United States – from its own worst instincts.
“The potential strike by the United States against Syria, despite strong opposition from many countries and major political and religious leaders, including the Pope, will result in more innocent victims and escalation, potentially spreading the conflict far beyond Syria’s borders,” Putin said. “ A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.”
The Russian president also denied the view that the uprising in Syria is part of a wave of popular movements in the Middle East demanding democracy from despotic rulers. “Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi-religious country,” he wrote. “There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government.”
CIA-funded weapons have begun flowing to Syrian rebels, a U.S. official told CNN late Wednesday night.
The official confirmed details first reported by the Washington Post but would not speak publicly.
"That is something we are not going to dispute, but we are not going to publicly speak to it," the official said.
The weapons are not American-made, but are funded and organized by the CIA. They started to reach rebels about two weeks ago, the official said.
The artillery provided were described as light weapons, some anti-tank weapons and ammunition.
The supply is in addition to the non-lethal aid that the United States has been providing the rebels since April, when the Obama administration first altered the nature of the aid to include items such as body armor, night vision goggles and other military equipment.
By Jamie Crawford
Secretary of State John Kerry heads to Geneva on Thursday for a high-stakes meeting with his Russian counterpart that could conceivably tip the balance on whether the United States strikes Syria militarily over alleged chemical weapons use.
Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to discuss the specifics of Moscow's plan that would put Syria's chemical stockpiles under international control, described as a difficult but momentous step that would nullify the threat of weapons of mass destruction and diffuse the crisis.
In his address to the nation on Tuesday, President Barack Obama said he was willing to test the seriousness and feasibility of the proposal before resuming his push for a vote in Congress on whether to authorize force to punish the Syrian regime over an alleged poison gas attack last month the United States says killed more than 1,400 people.
Kerry will take the lead in dealing with the Russians, Obama said.FULL STORY
Throughout much of the 1990s, U.N. weapons inspectors criss-crossed Iraq in search of Saddam Hussein's stocks of chemical weapons. It was a game of cat and mouse, as inspectors tried to reconcile what the Iraqi regime was telling them with conflicting intelligence from western governments.
In total, the inspectors of the U.N. Special Commission supervised the destruction of more than 40,000 chemical munitions, some 500,000 liters of chemical agents, 1.8 million liters of chemical precursors and delivery systems including ballistic missile warheads.
(CNN) - As a Russian proposal to strip Syria of its chemical weapons began to take shape, the White House eased off the gas on Tuesday in its drive for congressional approval to strike the Middle Eastern country.
President Barack Obama asked Senate Democrats to delay voting on authorizing military action in Syria while the diplomatic process works itself out, according to senators in a meeting with Obama.
A White House official told CNN that during his meeting on the hill, the president said that his administration would spend the days ahead pursuing this diplomatic option with the Russians and U.S. allies at the United Nations.