NATO: Russia May Assist in Destruction of Syria's Chemical Weapons

U.S. and 10 other countries backing opposition agree Assad mustn't play any role in transitional government, but opposition leadership still not committing to peace talks; Israel's defense minister: Peace impossible as long as Assad has chemical weapons

Jack Khoury
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Jack Khoury

NATO allies and Russia could - either jointly or individually - assist in the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

He said NATO and Russia had taken note of a request by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to help the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in its task, if asked to do so.

"What I say, based on our discussion, is that I would expect [NATO members and Russia] to respond positively if the UN actually forwards a request," Rasmussen said.

"Whether that would be executed on an individual national basis or collectively, it's really premature to make any assessment on that at this stage,"he said.

Meanwhile, the so-called Friends of Syria group of 11 countries backing the Syrian opposition agreed on Tuesday that Syrian President Bashar Assad and his close associates with civilian blood on their hands must not play any role in a transitional Syrian government.

This group of countries -- Britain, Egypt, France, Germany, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United States - is still struggling to convince the rebels to attend peace talks in Geneva next month.

The Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition umbrella group, has insisted that it will not participate in the Geneva conference, tentatively scheduled for November 23, if any regime members are in attendance.

Coalition chairman Ahmad Al-Jarba said that the Syrian people were frustrated by what he termed the West’s empty promises and thus would not take part in any dialogue that could not guarantee a transfer of power from the Assad regime.

Jarba also demanded a number of conditions from the international community, first and foremost the establishment of no-fly zones throughout the country and of corridors for the transfer of humanitarian aid to the tens of thousands of civilians under siege in the suburbs of Damascus and in the cities of Homs and Hama.

The coalition is also demanding support for the Free Syrian Army, and implementation of Section VII of the UN Charter that would permit the use of force against Syria if it does not fulfill its obligations as determined by the UN Security Council.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Tuesday that the forum had agreed to put its “united and collective weight” behind efforts to form a transitional government and that "Assad would play no role in that future government of Syria.”

Hague said that a number of important decisions had been made with regard to aiding the moderate opposition, because there was general agreement that without this opposition there would be no way to reach a diplomatic solution that would end the bloodletting.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agreed that Assad had "lost all legitimacy,” but said that Assad’s removal would have to be a result of the Geneva talks and not a condition for holding them. He stressed that the 11 countries agree that only diplomatic talks could bring about an end to the civil war.

At this point it isn’t clear that the Geneva conference will take place as scheduled, with no one willing to commit to that date, including UN envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi, who has begun shuttling between various Arab and Muslim countries, including Iran, in an effort to gain support for the conference.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon told lawmakers in the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee as long as the Assad regime continued to engage in chemical weapons production or use.

Assad said in several interviews this week that even if the Geneva conference takes place, “and current factors do not help in holding it,” he has no plans to yield control of Syria and that his fate will be determined by the Syrian people in the presidential election scheduled for next year, not by the whims of the West led by the United States.

A Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover during fighting with the Syrian Army in Azaz, Syria in 2012.Credit: AP

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