Report: Netanyahu urged U.S. to accept Russian deal on Syria's chemical arms
WSJ says the prime minister spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and told him he believes Russia 'wasn't bluffing'; Netanyahu's aides deny the report.
Netanyahu spoke by phone with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last Wednesday, September 11, and told him that he believed that Russia was not bluffing, and that it was possible to get a deal, according to the report, which is based on senior officials in the U.S. and the Middle East.
The Prime Minister's Bureau initially refused to address the report, but later denied it. Officials in the bureau stated that Netanyahu did not make the remarks attributed to him by the WSJ, stressing that the leader did not urge the U.S. administration to accept the Russian deal.
The report claims that Israel was a partner to American concerns that military action against Syrian President Bashar Assad might strengthen the rebel organizations linked to Al-Qaida, and allow them to take control of Assad's weapons arsenals.
On Monday, the UN chemical weapons inspectors are set to unveil their report into the alleged sarin gas attack near Damascus on August 21 where more than 1,400 died, according to U.S. estimates. The U.S. and others blame Assad's government for the attack, which spurred an international effort to rid the regime of chemical weapons. Assad denies the charge, blaming Syrian rebels.
Kerry met with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and U.K. Foreign Secretary WIlliam Hague in Paris on Monday, two days after Russia and the U.S. worked out the deal. After the meeting, the office of French President Francois Hollande said in a statement that the three would seek a "strong and robust" UN resolution, with precise binding deadlines on the removal of Assad's arsenal.
Kerry told the Paris news conference that the three powers agreed with Moscow that Assad must suffer consequences if he fails to comply with UN demands. The accord offered the Syrian leader "no lifeline" and he had "lost all legitimacy," Kerry added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday it may be time to consider efforts to force Assad's foes to attend an international peace conference instead of just urging them to do so. He also said after talks with Egypt's foreign minister that any calls for a swift UN resolution threatening potential punishment for Syria under Chapter VII of the UN Charter - which can include the use of force - showed a "lack of understanding" of the agreement reached for Syria to abandon its chemical arms.
In Jerusalem on Sunday, Kerry said after a meeting with Netanyahu that destroying Syria's arsenal sets a standard for Iran, and that the world must not allow "hollow words" to dominate international affairs. He also said that the U.S-Russian agreement on Syria has the full ability to strip the regime of its chemical weapons.
"We are not just standing up for the red line that the world drew 100 years ago," Kerry said. "Our focus must remain on ending the violence and the creation of more refugees – tearing not only Syria but the region. There is no military solution to this conflict. We don’t want the implosion of the state of Syria."
Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu said that Israel hoped a U.S.-Russian deal to remove Syria's chemical weapons would result in the "complete destruction" of the arsenal, and urged the international community to apply the same efforts to destroying Iran's nuclear program.
'Victory for Damascus'
Syria's Minister for National Reconciliation said Sunday that the chemical weapons agreement between Russia and the United States was a "victory" for Damascus, won by its Russian allies, and had taken away the pretext for war.
Russia and the U.S. remain divided over the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Obama, speaking in a television interview taped before Saturday's announcement of the chemical weapons deal, said Russian President Vladimir Putin is "protecting" Assad and doesn't share American "values" in Syria. "He has a different attitude about the Assad regime," Obama told ABC.
"But what I've also said to him directly is that we both have an interest in preventing chaos, we both have an interest in preventing terrorism. The situation in Syria right now is untenable. As long as Mr. Assad's in power, there is going be some sort of conflict there."
Despite the U.S. president's calls for Assad to leave power, Obama reiterated that he would not use military force to achieve that objective. He said securing Syria's chemical weapons is his "primary concern."