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Kremlin Fail

We Can’t Get Assad to Do Anything

© Ruben Sprich / Reuters

The U.S. expects the Russian government to force Bashar al Assad to make concessions that could lead to peace, but Russia simply can't do it, according to its own foreign minister.

Russia is not able to pressure the Syrian regime to make concessions to the Syrian opposition, at least not without the help of other international actors, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday.Lavrov spoke at the Munich Security Conference about the recently failed first round of peace talks between the Syrian government and the Syrian Opposition Coalition in Geneva, mediated by U.N. Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi.

Shell Game

Russia Still Arming Syria

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Even as inspectors carry out a Russian-brokered deal to rid Syria of chemical weapons, Moscow is sending artillery, attack helicopter parts, and rockets to Assad. Eli Lake reports.

As international inspectors make unexpected progress in securing Syria’s chemical weapon facilities, its chief arms supplier continues to prop up its conventional forces, according to two senior lawmakers. In an interview with The Daily Beast, Rep. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said Russia was continuing to sell spare parts and other components for Syria's anti-tank and air defense systems—as well as attack helicopters.

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Firebombing in Syria

Ahmad Abo Bakr/Reuters

Human rights groups are accusing the government of dropping vacuum bombs on a school—just as weapons inspectors arrive.

A human rights group has accused the Syrian government of using fuel-air bombs earlier this week in an air raid on a high school in the rebel-held city of Raqqa in the north of the country. Such arms, also known as “vacuum bombs,” are considered as lethal as chemical weapons, and at least 16 people were killed in the strike—many of them teenagers attending their first day of classes after the summer vacation.The airstrikes on Sunday also reportedly wounded another 25 civilians, and took place just before a team of international weapons experts arrived in Syria as part of the disarmament process.

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Syrian Troops Target Hospitals

Javier Manzano/AFP/Getty

Air raids, bombings, and snipers target hospitals and doctors in an increasingly brutal war. By Emma Beals.

In Syria, doctors, hospitals and patients are increasingly targeted in attacks, adding to the brutality of a conflict that already has claimed more than 110,000 lives. In Aleppo, where front lines weave across crowded areas where civilians live and work, British doctor Saleyha Ahran remembers “the smell of burning flesh” when a clinic in Reef Aleppo where she worked was hit by what she believes was an incendiary device, further injuring about 40 patients who were being treated for other wounds and ills.

Diplomacy

A Plea for Peace

Khaled Al Hariri/Reuters

Majid Rafizadeh knows the cost of war in Syria all too deeply. That’s why he supports finding a diplomatic solution to the conflict—and opposes a U.S. military intervention.

It began, in Damascus, with a gunshot that robbed my uncle of his life. The innocence was ripped from the wide and startled eyes of my 4r-year-old cousin, who witnessed what hatred could cause, and then helplessly received the second bullet to her tiny chest. Luckily she survived, but she would never be the same, nor would our family. Her father was just one of several apolitical family members who lost their lives in the battle between President Bashar al-Assad's police state and the fractured rebel and oppositional groups.

‘Hail Mary’

Obama’s Sarin Plan B

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Why was the White House so quick to accept Russia’s offer to disarm Syria’s chemical weapons? One reason, reports Eli Lake: U.S. military and intelligence leaders doubted their own ‘Hail Mary’ plan.

A secret U.S. contingency plan to secure Syria’s chemical weapons in the event the Bashar al-Assad regime falls has a very low probability of success, say current and former U.S. officials briefed on the operation.The plan, first developed by the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff nearly two years ago and later overseen by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, would send small teams of native Arabic speakers into Syria from Jordan to handle and dispose of Syria’s chemical agent and establish remote monitoring of the country’s chemical warheads and artillery.

Now What?

Rebels Without a Plan

Virginie Nguyen Hoang/AP

Now that it seems unlikely the U.S. will hit Syria militarily, the rebels need a new strategy. Jamie Dettmer reports on the tough odds facing the opposition.

President Obama’s acceptance of a Russian-brokered proposal to strip Syrian president Bashar al-Assad of his chemical weapons, and to pull back from launching airstrikes on the country, has left Western-favored rebels floundering to develop a new strategy for the next phase of a civil war—a war that in recent months has seen momentum on the battlefield shift to the Syrian autocrat.The rebels concede that they had banked on U.S. strikes, developing plans to take advantage by launching offensives on Republican Guard barracks in Damascus that they had been tipped off by U.

Lesson Learned?

Obama Needs His Base

Pool photo by Feng Li

The president is lucky he’s not facing a war in Syria or a nasty Senate vote over Larry Summers. He’s about to face the ugliest battle of his presidency, and he needs the left on his side, says Michael Tomasky.

If you think Obama was just lucky on Syria, you’re wrong. But something else happened this week that set the president’s good luck vaults to overflowing: support in the Senate for Larry Summers cratered before Obama could nominate him as Fed chair. This development spared Obama immeasurable misery in his remaining three-plus years. I hope he knows this, and I hope he takes the right lesson from it, which is that to deal with a GOP that shows signs only of (believe it or not) increasing hysteria, he needs his base behind him the rest of the way, and he ought to behave accordingly.

Syrian Split

Rebel vs. Rebel

Nour Kelze/Reuters

While the U.S. and Russia pursue a diplomatic route in Syria, a battle between the country’s moderate and extremist rebels erupted in eastern Syria. Eli Lake talks with a commander of the pro-Western opposition about a new front in the civil war.

The same day the United States and Russia announced a plan to disarm Bashar al-Assad of his chemical weapons, a fresh round of fighting erupted along the Syria-Iraq border. This time, it was rebel versus rebel—specifically, al Qaeda–linked rebels against the more moderate elements of the opposition.Mahmoud al-Aboud, commander of the eastern front for the Free Syrian Army, told The Daily Beast on Sunday in a Skype interview that the fighting began Saturday with a car bomb.

Revealed

He Did It. Now What?

Bassam Khabieh/Reuters, via Landov

A new United Nations report confirms a chemical-weapons attack in Syria. But it does nothing to alter the likely prospect of even more tyranny from Assad, writes Christopher Dickey.

United Nations inspectors have concluded that there is “clear and convincing evidence” that chemical weapons were used against civilians in Syria on August 21. Their report, presented to the U.N. Security Council this morning by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, does not blame the Assad regime directly, but leaves little doubt that it’s responsible.“The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provided clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used,” said the report.

Shady Business

Russian Fraud and the City

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Pussy Riot goes to prison while a gang accused of murder and mugging in Mother Russia gets luxury apartments in lower Manhattan. One federal prosecutor is calling Putin out.

Even as the United States and Russia were nearing an agreement over Syria’s chemical weapons, a federal prosecutor was filing papers that effectively accuse the Putin regime of tolerating, if not abetting, an organized gang of government officials and criminals who looted $250 million from the Russian treasury.The immediate intent of the official complaint filed by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara on September 10 was to seize several high-end Manhattan properties.

Up to Speed

U.S.-Russia Deal: 4 Things to Know

Eric Feferberg/AFP via Getty

So the United States and Russia reached a breakthrough agreement on Saturday. But will it work—and avert U.S. military action in Syria? From the plan’s ambitious scope to the potential for Obama humiliation, Eli Lake on the key points.

In the coming days, the Syrian government is supposed to provide an accounting to the United Nations of its chemical weapons program. The declaration expected from Syria is spelled out in a four-page framework agreement forged Saturday by the United States and Russia in Geneva. That document may present President Obama with a way to solve the most pressing national security crisis of his second term without taking military action that most American citizens and members of Congress oppose.

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Syria Breakthrough

Larry Downing/AP

In a stunning agreement that could lead to the end of the Syrian crisis, Russia and the U.S. announce a plan to eliminate Assad’s chemical arsenal. Christopher Dickey on how it would work.

The diplomatic breakthrough in Geneva today is simply stunning. The “framework agreement for elimination of Syrian chemical weapons” reached by Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov delivers, in writing at least, just about everything President Barack Obama demanded when he threatened to attack the Assad regime earlier this month.The agreement calls on Syria to declare in detail its entire chemical arsenal within weeks and destroy it – along with everything involved in making it – within five or six months.

Intel Fears

Americans Join Syrian Jihad

Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP/Getty

At least 10 Americans have signed up with al Qaeda-related groups in Syria, according to U.S. intelligence estimates. Sources tell Eli Lake why the country’s civil war is a ‘jihad magnet.’

The U.S. intelligence community has grown increasingly concerned in recent months about the flow of European and American nationals to fight with al Qaeda-linked affiliates in Syria’s civil war.While the number of Americans who have traveled to join the jihad in Syria is low, some members of the U.S. intelligence community worry that fighters who receive training and battlefield experience in Syria could return to the West with skills honed by fighting in the country’s civil war.

GAME TIME

Russia, U.S. Will Meet in Geneva

Jacques Demarthon/AFP/Getty Images

To discuss placing Syria’s chemical weapons under international control.

The U.S. and Russia will meet in Geneva Thursday to discuss the details of Moscow’s ultimatum to Syria to hand over its chemical weapons. The critical meeting will bring together U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. A spokesperson for the State Department, Jennifer Psaki, says the goal of the meeting is to “test the seriousness” of the proposal of placing Assad’s weapons under international control and to nail down the “mechanics of identifying ... and ultimately destroying [his] chemical weapons.”

Read it at The Wall Street Journal

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