President Obama has asked Congress to delay its vote on authorizing military force in “Syria”http://www.democracynow.org/topics/syria while the United States weighs a potential diplomatic breakthrough with Russia. In a national address from the White House Tuesday night, Obama said the United States will explore Russia’s proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control.
President Obama: “It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies. I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.”
President Obama added that he has ordered the U.S. military to be prepared for an attack should diplomacy fail. His address came hours after the Syrian government acknowledged its chemical weapons stockpile and expressed more detailed backing for the Russian plan. Speaking from Moscow, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said his government is prepared to stop chemical weapons production and grant access to international inspectors.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem: “We intend to join the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. And we are ready to honor our obligation towards this treaty, including providing all information about these weapons. We are ready to announce the location of the chemical weapons and stop their production.”
France has already put forward a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would force Syria to declare its chemical program in full and allow international inspections within 15 days. The measure threatens force in the event of noncompliance. The Russian government has pushed back against the French proposal, saying it will present its own version. In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he opposes threat of force against Syria.
Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Obviously, this all makes sense and can work only if we hear that the American side and all those who support the United States in this sense reject the use of force, because it is difficult to force any country — Syria or any other country in the world — to disarm in a unilateral way when there is a military action being prepared against it.”
Secretary of State John Kerry is due to hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday.
The Syrian government continues to deny carrying out the chemical attack in Ghouta last month that has sparked the U.S. threat of military strikes. On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch released the findings of its initial probe into the Ghouta attack. The group’s U.N. director, Philippe Bolopion, said the available evidence strongly points to Syrian government responsibility.
Philippe Bolopion: “We looked at satellite pictures of where the different attacks took place. We looked at a lot of videos that we authenticated first. We talked to doctors who were responding to the scene. We talked to some of the witnesses, who told us where the shells were coming from. And so, when you take all these elements and you look at them very closely, there is only one theory that emerges clearly, which is that most likely it’s the Syrian government that’s responsible for the attack.”
In a new report out today, a United Nations panel investigating human rights abuses in the Syrian conflict accuses both sides of war crimes. Investigators say they have confirmed at least eight massacres committed by Assad regime forces and one by rebels over the past year and a half.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is calling for a new push to resolve the standoff with the United States over Iran’s nuclear program. In an interview on state television, Rouhani said the international community should take advantage of the opportunity created by his recent election, in which he pledged “constructive interaction” with the world. Rouhani says he will hold talks with the United States and other world powers at the General Assembly in New York later this month. On Tuesday, the White House announced it will ease longstanding obstacles to humanitarian and goodwill activities between the United States and Iran, including athletic exchanges and the provision of health services.
The National Security Agency has acknowledged violating its own phone tracking rules thousands of times between 2006 and 2009. Newly declassified documents show at least 15,000 numbers were monitored even though they failed to meet the standards needed for government suspicion. An internal probe also found the violations continued in part because NSA employees did not fully understand how phone surveillance operations worked.
Two Colorado lawmakers who helped pass tough gun control measures have been ousted in a recall vote. State Senators John Morse and Angela Giron were targeted for recall after leading the successful effort to expand background checks and limit ammunition magazines after last year’s mass shooting in Aurora. The recall campaign drew national attention with both sides of the gun control debate pouring in millions of dollars in contributions. Morse and Giron are the first Colorado politicians to be recalled in state history. Morse, who served as Senate president, said: “I said at the time if it costs me my political career, so be it. That’s nothing compared to what the families of (gun violence) victims go through every single day.”
Bill de Blasio has won the crowded Democratic primary to run for New York City mayor. De Blasio campaigned as the most progressive candidate to replace outgoing three-term Mayor Michael Bloomberg, criticizing Bloomberg’s embrace of the police tactic of “stop and frisk” and vowing to take on growing inequality between rich and poor. De Blasio may have received a last-minute, unintended boost from Bloomberg after Bloomberg described a campaign ad featuring de Blasio’s mixed-race family as “racist.” De Blasio could avoid a run-off with second-place challenger Bill Thompson if he holds on to 40 percent of the vote. On the Republican side, Joe Lhota, a deputy to former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, won the Republican mayoral race. In another local contest that drew national attention, former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer lost his bid for a political comeback in his race against Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer for city comptroller.
The legendary singer Neil Young has spoken out against the extraction of tar sands oil in Canada and its export to the United States through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Speaking to a National Farmers Union rally on Capitol Hill, Young described his recent visit to a tar sands community in Alberta, Canada.
Neil Young: “The fact is, Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima. Fort McMurray is a wasteland. The Indians up there and the native peoples are dying. The fuels all over — there’s fumes everywhere. You can smell it when you get to town. The closest place to Fort McMurray that is doing the tar sands work is 25 or 30 miles out of town, and you can taste it when you get to Fort McMurray. People are sick. People are dying of cancer because of this.”
President Obama is expected to decide on the Keystone XL pipeline within the next several months. In a bid to win Obama’s approval, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently offered to work on a joint plan to reduce carbon emissions if the Keystone is built.
The Washington Post reports a meat inspection program set for use in pork plants across the country has repeatedly failed to stop the production of contaminated meat. The program allows an increase in processing speeds and cuts the number of federal inspectors at the plants in half, replacing them with private inspectors employed by meat producers. It has been in effect as a pilot for years at five pork plants, three of which ranked among the 10 worst in the country for health and safety, with issues including fecal matter in meat products. Federal agriculture officials say they hope to expand the system nationwide after completing an upcoming evaluation.
The award-winning journalist, filmmaker, author and professor Saul Landau has died at the age of 77. Landau made more than 45 films and wrote 14 books, many about Cuba. His recent film, “Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?” exposed U.S. support for violent anti-Castro militants. Speaking last year on Democracy Now!, Landau discussed how he got involved with Cuban solidarity work.
Saul Landau: “I went to Cuba in 1960 when I was a student, because I was curious. I was curious to see how a guy who was so disobedient, Fidel Castro, and his other revolutionaries were going to last. I didn’t think they could, and I went out to — I went down to Cuba to check it out. And I met people my age who were running government ministries and sleeping three hours a night and using a lot more of their brains than I was using. And I was impressed by watching people making history. And I think, like many other people who went down there at the time, this place seemed really different, that they were going to make a different kind of a revolution, and it was going to have its impact. And I think it did have its impact on the world. But that’s how I got there in the first place. And pretty soon, I was working to stop the United States from invading Cuba, like a lot of people who had gone down there. And the first, one of the first, talks I gave was in New York City at Town Hall. And as I came out, a guy tried to cut me on the back with a razor, a Cuban exile. I guess he took freedom of speech more seriously than I did.”