Kerry to hear Russia’s surprise Syria plan

September 12, 2013

Kerry to discuss Syria disarmament deal with Russia, white smoke rises at North Korean nuclear reactor, and officials peg peace hopes on former Taliban leader. Today is Thursday, September 12, and this is the World Wrap, brought to you by @dwbronner and @clarerrrr.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) leaves the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva on September 12, 2013, before his meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the ongoing problems in Syria. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

Putin pens public appeal. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Geneva today to discuss Russia’s surprise proposal for international oversight of Syria’s chemical weapons, one day after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned against a U.S. strike in a New York Times op-ed. Syria appears to have agreed to Russia’s plan, potentially paving the way for a non-interventionist Western approach after the U.S. seemed on the brink of military action in response to last month’s chemical attack.

U.S. officials said they hoped Kerry and Lavrov could agree on a blueprint for Syrian disarmament whose main points would be adopted in a U.N. Security Council resolution. The five permanent veto-wielding powers of the U.N. Security Council met in New York on Wednesday. Britain, France and the United States want the Security Council to include tough consequences if Assad is seen to renege. An initial French draft called for delivering an ultimatum to Assad’s government to give up its chemical weapons arsenal or face punitive measures… Kerry is accompanied by a large retinue of experts in anticipation of detailed talks on how to turn the Russian offer into a concrete plan along the lines of disarmament accords between Washington and Moscow since the days of the Cold War.

Skeptics say it would take years to execute such a plan, and that neutralizing chemical weapons in a war zone could increase the risk to civilians. Putin directly appealed to an American audience in a provoking op-ed for the New York Times, outlining the threats of Western intervention without support of the U.N. Security Council:

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. 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.

Notably, he reiterated the claim that the Syrian opposition was responsible for the chemical attack on Aug. 21. On Tuesday, Syrian government troops bombed a Damascus suburb for the first time in weeks.

A map of North Korea shows nuclear facilities in the country. REUTERS Graphics. 

North Korea reactor reaction. Satellite images showing steam rising from a nuclear complex suggest North Korea has restarted its Yongbyon reactor, according to an American research institute and a U.S. official:

U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies said a satellite image from August 31 shows white steam rising from a building near the hall that houses the plutonium production reactor’s steam turbines and electric generators. “The white coloration and volume are consistent with steam being vented because the electrical generating system is about to come online, indicating that the reactor is in or nearing operation,” said the Washington-based institute. The reactor can produce 13.2 pounds of plutonium a year, the institute added.

The IAEA said it did not have a “clear understanding” of the situation, but the U.S. special envoy to North Korea said that if the report is confirmed, “it would be a very serious matter [that] would violate a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions.” North Korea last tested a nuclear weapon in February, prompting months of increased tension between Pyongyang, Washington, and Seoul.

Friend or foe? This week, Pakistan announced the release of Abdul Ghani Baradar, the former Taliban second-in-command who has been held in prison since 2010. Now Pakistan and Afghanistan hope he can broker Afghan peace:

Afghanistan sees Baradar as a sensible and down-to-earth negotiator willing to act as a go-between for the Kabul government and the Taliban leadership council, the Quetta Shura. One of the founders of the Taliban movement, Baradar is ethnic Pashtun and belongs to the same powerful Popalzai subtribe as Karzai – a factor that could lend credibility to Karzai’s own peace efforts among Pashtuns, Afghanistan’s biggest ethnic group. Baradar, who is in his 40s, also belongs to the older generation of mujahedeen fighters who are less ideologically extreme compared with a younger, more violent crop of insurgents with closer links to al Qaeda.

Critics fear his stint in prison has decreased his clout among the Taliban leadership. Afghanistan has struggled to maintain order ahead of Western troop withdrawals in 2014, as extremist attacks have intensified over the past months.

Nota Bene: China will protect online whistleblowers, so long as they use an officially-sanctioned website.


Turning point – The Stimson Center’s Mona Yacoubian argues that Russia’s proposal could lead to a Syria settlement. (Reuters)

Coke belly – A woman is arrested in a Colombian airport for carrying cocaine in a fake baby bump. (BBC)

Zombie ship – A wrecked cruise ship could return from the dead. (The Guardian)

Devilish design – Demons decorate Frankfurt’s Central Plaza. (The Atlantic Cities)

Chile’s 9/11 – Chilean President Sebastian Piñera speaks on the 40th anniversary of Chile’s coup. (Time)

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