By Jamie Crawford
With the situation in Syria seemingly deteriorating by the day, the United States is doing what it can to pressure Bashar al-Assad to step aside, but that goal is nowhere in sight, a senior administration official said Wednesday.
"As it relates to what Plan B is for Syria, we're still on Plan A," Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough said at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar. The event was sponsored by the Brookings Institution.
Following a massacre in the Syrian village of Houla this past weekend that left scores of children and villagers dead, McDonough said the United States continues to support the joint United Nations/Arab League plan, led by Kofi Annan, which is deploying monitors into Syria.
But McDonough acknowledged that simply putting monitors in Syria is not going to stop the carnage.
By Larry Shaughnessy
After weeks of military analysts examining the latest North Korean rocket before and after its failed launch, the focus now has turned to a truck.
It's not just any truck. It's known as a "transporter, erector, launcher," TEL for short, and is designed to move a long-range missile into place, stand it upright and launch it from just about anywhere in North Korea. The truck was spotted in a military parade in Pyongyang last weekend with what experts say is a new long-range rocket on board.
The United Nations is investigating if the TEL came from China in violation of U.N. resolutions, a U.S. official tells CNN. The U.N. Security Council committee that monitors implementation of the sanctions on North Korea is investigating, the official said. The investigation was first reported by Jane's Defense Weekly.
By Jill Dougherty
North Korea's so-called "Leap Day" agreement with the United States to suspend its nuclear-weapon and long-range missile testing was dead in the water even before the North's dud rocket splashed into the ocean last week.
Tuesday Pyongyang made it official, blaming Washington for "hatching all sorts of dastardly tricks to prevent the peaceful nature of the (Democratic People's Republic of Korea's) satellite launch from being confirmed objectively" and imposing on the U.N. Security Council "its brigandish demand that the DPRK should not be allowed to launch even a satellite for peaceful purposes."
"We have thus become able to take necessary retaliatory measures, free from the agreement," the government news agency KCNA announced, quoting the Foreign Ministry. "The U.S. will be held wholly accountable for all the ensuing consequences."
Now, U.S. officials are waiting for the other shoe to drop: Will North Korea break the other part of that agreement and carry out a nuclear test?
"That," a senior administration official told CNN, "is the 64-thousand-dollar question."
Kofi Annan, the United Nations-Arab League envoy to Syria, told the U.N. Security Council that he was "gravely concerned at the course of events" in the crisis-ridden Middle East nation, after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad failed to withdraw troops from cities and towns by Tuesday's deadline. (For the latest Syria developments click here)
In a letter, Annan said the Syrian government should have used the days ahead of the deadline to send a "powerful political signal of peace."
Annan wrote the letter as Syrian troops pounded cities across the nation, opposition activists said. Annan said he was not giving up on the peace plan he brokered, but the fresh violence as the deadline came and went blighted hopes for success.
Here's the text of his letter: FULL POST
By Elise Labott
It's what administration officials refer to as the North Korean "two-step," in which one daring act by Pyongyang is followed by another. This time, Washington and its allies are expecting North Korea to conduct a third nuclear bomb test shortly after the launch.
In April 2009, North Korea followed up a long-range missile test with a nuclear test. Then, after North Korea sunk the South Korean navy warship Cheonan in March 2010, it topped itself later that year by shelling South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island in the Yellow Sea off the countries' west coast.
North Korea's coming satellite launch and the possibility of a nuclear test would both be a "blatant violation" of North Korea's international obligations, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations told CNN's John King in an interview on Monday.
"We have taken the view that these are highly provocative steps," Ambassador Susan Rice said in the interview airing at 6pET on CNN's "John King, USA." "They have nothing to gain and only further isolation to anticipate should they go ahead with this." FULL POST
By Elise Labott and Jamie Crawford
Over the weekend, a team from the United States mission to the United Nations moved computers and phones across the street and set up shop in a small suite of offices adjacent to the U.N. Security Council.
During April, the United States will assume the rotating presidency of the council. For the next 30 days, U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice will lead all council meetings and will be referred to as madame president.
By Elise Labott, CNN Foreign Affairs Reporter
The Obama administration has gone to great lengths to explain why all options for stopping the violence in Syria are fraught with difficulty. But there is one route that the administration believes would go a long way to changing thinking in Damascus, and the path goes right through Moscow.
As administration officials - from the White House to the State Department, from the Pentagon to the intelligence community - explain, the opposition is comprised of many small groups, and the parts so far do not add up to a united whole. That opposition, which Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, numbered at around 100 different groups, has not united and has failed to rally the entire country against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad.
Arming the opposition would be futile against Syria's strong defenses and could lead to a chaotic civil war that could turn Syria into a safe haven for al Qaeda, administration officials argue. Military intervention, well, is out of the question, at least for now.
Which is why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been focused like a laser on turning Moscow into a member of the "Friends of the Syrian people," rather than what the United States considers a friend of the al-Assad regime.
By Suzanne Kelly
(CNN) - As the international community debates how to stop the bloodshed in Syria, intelligence experts are looking closely at possible terrorist scenarios that could occur should the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad go.
Among those scenarios is the question of whether terrorists could get their hands on Syria's weapons arsenal , which includes not only stockpiles of chemical and biological agents that have not been accounted for with the international community, but also a sophisticated anti-ship missile system as well as a small fleet of surface to surface missiles.
"If things continue to deteriorate in Syria, there are a number of scenarios in which proliferation becomes a risk," said Aram Nerguizian, visiting fellow at Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "The Syrians have been playing with chemical weapons capabilities for decades. By regional standards, you have a regionally mature chemical weapons system in Syria."
By Ralitsa Vassileva
Russia has more to lose than gain if it joins international calls for Syria's president to step down. The country has been a vocal opponent of U.S. and others calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside.
The Syrian regime offers Russia a jokey strategic foothold in the region and is a big weapons client with an estimated four billion dollars in purchases.
In early January, a Russian aircraft carrier docked at the Syrian port of Tartus which houses Russia's only overseas naval base outside of the former Soviet Union.
Moscow also signed a 550 million dollar deal with Syria for combat training jets and has made arms deliveries in the face off Europen Union sanctions.
But perhaps weighing most on Russian leadership's refusal to support the calls for President Assad to step down. Prime Minister Vladamir Putin, who is expected to be elected to a third term as president, faces pressure to give up power from his own people.Anti-Putin protestors were out in the streets this weekend and plan another rally in the coming week. Analysts say that Putin's stand against the west on Syria will help his controversial run for office in March. FULL POST