The United States and Russia have opened talks in Geneva on a Russian plan to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and avoid a U.S. strike. Secretary of State John Kerry is meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov for negotiations that will run through Friday. On the eve of the talks, the White House said Russia has put forth "very specific" plans on placing Syrian chemical weapons under international control.
In an op-ed published by The New York Times today, Russian President Vladimir Putin says a U.S. strike on Syria "will result in more innocent victims and escalation ... and unleash a new wave of terrorism." Putin also claims he believes Syrian rebels launched the chemical attack in Ghouta in order to provoke foreign intervention, and urges the Obama administration to abandon unilateral threats of military action against the Assad regime, writing: "We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement."
The talks in Geneva come amidst news the CIA has begun delivering weapons to Syrian rebels. In what The Washington Post calls "a major escalation of the U.S. role in Syria’s civil war," light weapons and other munitions began arriving two weeks ago through Turkey and Jordan after several months of delay. The weapons had apparently been stalled over concerns they would end up in the hands of al-Qaeda-linked rebels, but those concerns appear to have abated since President Obama threatened to use force in response to last month’s chemical attack in Ghouta. The current shipments are going to the Supreme Military Council, a rebel force under the command of General Salim Idris. The State Department has also shipped non-lethal assistance to the rebels including vehicles and communications gear.
The head of a U.N. panel investigating human rights abuses in Syria has warned against military strikes on Syria, saying it would only increase civilian suffering. Paulo Pinheiro, the chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, addressed reporters in Geneva.
Paulo Pinheiro: "There is an urgent need for a cessation of hostilities and a return to negotiations leading to a political settlement. To elect military action in Syria will not only intensify the suffering inside the country but will also serve to keep such a settlement beyond our collective reach."
The head of the U.N. panel investigating human rights abuses in Syria, Paulo Pinheiro, spoke hours after his panel issued a report accusing both sides of war crimes, including eight massacres by Assad regime forces and one by the rebels. Speaking at the U.N. headquarters in New York, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the international community has failed Syria on a massive scale.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: "Our collective failure to prevent atrocity crimes in Syria over the past two-and-a-half years will remain a heavy burden on the standing of the United Nations and its member states. I hope that the current discussions related to safeguarding Syria’s chemical weapon stocks will lead to the Security Council playing an effective role in promoting an end to the Syrian tragedy."
Commemorations were held across the United States on Wednesday to mark the 12th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Moments of silence were held at the times each plane crashed — at the World Trade Center, at the Pentagon, in rural Pennsylvania, and when the World Trade Center’s North Tower fell. At the Pentagon, President Obama paid tribute to the nearly 3,000 people who lost their lives.
President Obama: "We pray for the memory of all those taken from us — nearly 3,000 innocent souls. Our hearts still ache for the futures snatched away, the lives that might have been."
At the World Trade Center, 9/11 families continued the annual tradition of reading each victim’s name out loud. After honoring her slain uncle, 15-year-old Brooklyn teenager Brittney Cofresi made an appeal for peace as the United States considers military action against Syria.
Brittney Cofresi: "My uncle, Salvatore T. Papasso. I was only three when you were taken from us, and we love you and miss you very much. And, President Obama, please do not bring us to another war."
As the United States marked the 12th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Chile commemorated what is known as the first 9/11 — the September 11, 1973 — the U.S.-backed coup that overthrew President Salvador Allende. In a ceremony at the presidential palace where her father was killed, Allende’s daughter, Chilean Senator Isabel Allende, said "truth and justice" is the only path to healing from the coup’s lingering damage.
Isabel Allende: "Only truth and justice will allow us to come back together as a country, and the ethical values and the values that never again break the democracy, never again have a coup, never to break constitutional order again, never again to hunt someone down because of their beliefs, never again torture or state terrorism."
As Chileans marked the 40th anniversary of their 9/11, the leading U.S. official involved in the 1973 U.S.-backed coup, Henry Kissinger, was in Washington meeting with Secretary of State John Kerry. The State Department says Kissinger was summoned for his expertise on Russia before Kerry’s meeting today on Syria with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. As then-national security adviser, Kissinger oversaw the Nixon administration’s backing of the Chilean military’s ouster of Allende and subsequent mass killings and torture to cement its rule.
In Iraq, at least 33 people were killed and more than 55 wounded on Wednesday when a car bomb struck a Shia mosque in Baghdad. The United Nations says more than 800 people were killed in Iraq last month after more than 1,000 died in July — the highest monthly toll since 2008.
Thousands of teachers have marched in Mexico City one day after President Enrique Peña Nieto signed a controversial education overhaul into law. The measure bases teacher hiring and promotions on standardized evaluations. For weeks, thousands of teachers have occupied the main square in Mexico City in protest. Clashes erupted on Wednesday when riot police tried to break up the march.
The Israeli government has agreed to pay a $1.1 million settlement to the family of an alleged Mossad spy who took his own life inside a maximum security Israeli prison. The Israeli government has imposed a strict gag order on the 2010 death of Ben Zygier, refusing to even acknowledge his case. He was apparently jailed after unwittingly jeopardizing a secret Israeli mission in Lebanon, and later found hanged in his cell. The payment to his family averts a public trial that could have revealed more details about his case.
The pastor of a small Christian church was arrested in Florida on Thursday after reviving his attempt to burn copies of the Qur’an on the anniversary of 9/11. Local police say Terry Jones was illegally carrying a firearm and towing a barbeque grill along with thousands of Qur’ans soaked in kerosene.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd: "He then told our detectives that he was going to come to the park without a permit and that he was going to burn the Qur’ans on the park property. We explained clearly to him that that was a violation of law. We not only told him he had a First Amendment right to free speech, we encouraged him to come to that park if he wanted to make any statements that he wanted. But he was not going to come to Polk County and violate the law."
Jones sparked protests in Muslim countries three years ago when he first announced plans to burn the Qur’an on September 11.
Richmond, California, has approved the next phase in its landmark effort to rescue homeowners from underwater mortgages. Earlier this year, Richmond became the first city in the country to offer to purchase mortgages of distressed homeowners from Wall Street banks and other lenders. The city empowered itself to use eminent domain to purchase loans and modify them so that families can stay in their homes. On Wednesday, the City Council voted to form an authority that will oversee the program and aid homeowners facing foreclosure. Richmond can now invoke eminent domain if banks holding securities of more than 620 homes reject city offers to purchase the properties at appraised rates. Wall Street banks including Wells Fargo and Deutsche Bank are seeking to block Richmond’s effort in court.