How Syria talks were derailed before they started
January 16th, 2014
01:06 PM ET

How Syria talks were derailed before they started

By Elise Labott

When Secretary of State John Kerry first took office he talked of changing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's calculus.

Assad "needs to know that he can't shoot his way out of this," Kerry said in March at a Rome meeting with members of the Syrian opposition.

When he and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov first conceived the idea of bringing the regime and the opposition together for peace talks in Geneva, they believed strengthened international support for both the political opposition and rebel forces would leave the Syrian leader ready to negotiate his own ouster.

U.S. policy since then has had the opposite effect.
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Weather, time key challenges in first chemical destruction at sea off Syria
January 3rd, 2014
11:34 AM ET

Weather, time key challenges in first chemical destruction at sea off Syria

By Gabe LaMonica

Wearing a welding mask to protect from heat and sparks, a worker put the finishing touches on a system capable of a task never performed: the destruction of chemical weapons agents at sea.

The Cape Ray, equipped with chemical weapons disposal systems, should be deployed in about two weeks. Once deployed, it will take the ship 10 days to reach the center of the Mediterranean Sea and three more days to reach the coast of Syria.

But with no orders yet to sail, officials Thursday opened the 648-foot cargo ship in Norfolk, Virginia, to display two field deployable hydrolysis systems (FDHS) installed on its main trailer deck. Each FDHS costs about $5 million. They are based on machines that “have been used for about 10 years now to destroy our own chemical materials,” according to Frank Kendall, a Defense Department official.
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Filed under: Chemical Weapons • Syria
Rise of Islamists in Syria upends U.S. strategy
December 12th, 2013
06:58 PM ET

Rise of Islamists in Syria upends U.S. strategy

CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter Elise Labott

The seizure Friday by Islamists of warehouses of American aid for the moderate opposition in Syria - and the American decision to suspend further shipments - is less a loss of critical supplies than a huge wake-up call for the Obama administration that its policy to oust President Bashar al-Assad is falling apart at the seams.

 
The warehouses belonged to the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian army, the military wing of the moderate opposition led by Gen. Salim Idriss.

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Islamic Front in Syria deals another blow to rebel alliance
December 12th, 2013
04:48 PM ET

Islamic Front in Syria deals another blow to rebel alliance

CNN's Tim Lister

Influencing events in Syria just got a lot harder for the Obama administration and its allies. Despite receiving months of training, diplomatic support and aid from the West, the Free Syrian Army's command has lost control of its headquarters and supply depots in northern Syria to the recently formed Islamic Front - another sign that the balance among rebel forces is tipping toward militant groups away from more secular brigades.

 
The warehouses - belonging to the FSA's Supreme Military Command (SMC) - are at Bab al Hawa, a border crossing into Turkey. There are conflicting reports about just how they were taken over and what they held. The head of the SMC, Gen. Salim Idris, told CNN that only food and other humanitarian supplies were taken; other FSA officials say guns and two tons of ammunition were removed.

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Filed under: Syria
U.S. to begin sea trials for ship that could destroy Syria's chemical arms
December 5th, 2013
03:01 PM ET

U.S. to begin sea trials for ship that could destroy Syria's chemical arms

By Barbara Starr

The U.S. plans to begin sea trials by the end of the month of a merchant marine ship with special equipment on board that can destroy much of Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, according to a U.S. Defense Department official who briefed reporters.

The ship, the M/V Cape Ray, is now in port in the Norfolk area of Virginia being outfitted with a chemical weapons "neutralization" system developed by the Pentagon. If the trials go well and the Pentagon plan is accepted by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the ship could head to the region in January. The official, along with two others who briefed reporters, declined to be identified because the plan has not been approved by those international organizations.

The neutralization technology is called the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System. It mixes chemical agents with water and other chemicals to significantly lower any toxicity. The remaining material will then be destroyed in a commercial waste disposal site. "Absolutely nothing will be dumped at sea," the official said, adding that the technology is "safe and environmentally sound."
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Syria peace conference set for January 22, U.N. says
November 25th, 2013
09:59 AM ET

Syria peace conference set for January 22, U.N. says

After months of delays, a "Geneva II" conference meant to broker an end to the Syrian civil war has been scheduled to begin on January 22 in Geneva, Switzerland, the United Nations said Monday morning.

But which parties will attend - a subject that helped push back the conference for months - wasn't immediately clear.

The conference would bring representatives from Syria's government and elements of the opposition to negotiate an end to the fighting that has wracked Syria since March 2011.

Yet the opposition is hardly a single group; it consists of numerous factions that often oppose each other. The al Qaeda-linked groups Islamic State in Iraq and Jabhat al-Nusra have made substantial gains in Syria in recent months, especially in the north, tilting the balance away from more moderate factions of the rebel Free Syrian Army.

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Filed under: Syria • United Nations
November 12th, 2013
05:51 PM ET

North Carolina man allegedly tried to help Syrian jihadist group

By Bill Mears

A North Carolina man has become the latest American charged in federal court with attempting to assist an al Qaeda militant group involved in Syria's civil war.

Basit Javed Sheikh is accused of "providing material support" to a designated terrorist group.

A criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday says the 29-year-old resident of Cary was arrested at Raleigh International Airport earlier this month, allegedly planning to go to Lebanon.

Prosecutors claim Sheikh was prepared to join the group Jabhat al-Nusrah, or al-Nusrah Front, designated last year by the State Department as a foreign terror organization.
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FIRST ON CNN: US intelligence suggests Syria may hide some chemical weapons
A United Nations (UN) arms expert collects samples on August 29, 2013, as they inspect the site where rockets had fallen in Damascus' eastern Ghouta suburb during an investigation into a suspected chemical weapons strike near the capital.
November 5th, 2013
05:00 PM ET

FIRST ON CNN: US intelligence suggests Syria may hide some chemical weapons

Updated 5:51 p.m. ET, 11/5/2013

By Barbara Starr

The United States is looking at new classified intelligence indicating the Syrian government may not fully declare its chemical weapons stockpile, CNN has learned. That would mean it will still have a secret cache of chemical weapons even after the current agreed-upon destruction effort is carried out.

The intelligence is not definitive but “there are various threads of information that would shake our confidence,” one U.S. official said. “They have done things recently that suggest Syria is not ready to get rid of all their chemical weapons.”

CNN has spoken to several U.S. officials with access to the latest intelligence on Syria, who confirmed the information. All declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the data. U.S. intelligence agencies, the Defense Department, the State Department and White House are all reviewing the information.
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John Kerry's praise for Bashar al-Assad on chemical weapons destruction raises eyebrows
October 7th, 2013
06:35 PM ET

John Kerry's praise for Bashar al-Assad on chemical weapons destruction raises eyebrows

By Elise Labott

It was unusually positive language for a top U.S. official speaking about the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but there was Secretary of State John Kerry giving the Syrian leader a pat on the back.

Speaking to reporters in Bali on Monday, Kerry hailed the quick pace at which inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have been able to get on the ground in Syria and begin their work to destroy its vast chemical weapons arsenal, as called for in a recent U.N. Security Council resolution.
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Iran drama obscures concerns over Obama approach to Mideast
September 25th, 2013
05:30 PM ET

Iran drama obscures concerns over Obama approach to Mideast

By Elise Labott, reporting from the United Nations

The drama over whether President Barack Obama would shake hands with his Iranian counterpart detracted from what diplomats at the U.N. General Assembly described as an acute disappointment with his handling of Mideast turmoil.

A perceived lack of leadership in Syria during its civil war coupled with U.S. handling of the political crisis in Egypt has forced the Obama administration to confront a growing lack of confidence among Middle East allies.

But what's most bewildered American allies in the region was Obama's abrupt decision to back away from threats to use military force over alleged Syrian chemical weapons use in favor of a diplomatic approach to divest it of those stockpiles.

They fear Obama's ambivalence foreshadows a lack of mettle in dealing with Iran.
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Filed under: Egypt • Iran • Obama • Syria • United Nations
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