Kerry Arrives in Geneva as Rebels Condemn Russian Proposal

Opposition condemns Russian proposal as bilateral talks begin in Geneva.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry waves as he arrives in Geneva, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2013, to test the seriousness of a Russian proposal to secure Syria's chemical weapons.
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The Russian government has its first chance to prove it's serious about a new peace compromise in Syria on Thursday as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Geneva for bilateral talks with his Russian counterpart.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, made a direct appeal to the American people through an op-ed in Wednesday's New York Times. He backed up the Russian proposal for the Assad regime to give up its stockpiles of chemical weapons as an alternative to proposed U.S. missile strikes in Syria.

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"It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America's long-term interest? I doubt it," he wrote. He spoke of the importance of respecting the authority of the United Nations and the ability of each permanent member of its Security Council to veto resolutions.

He reaffirmed his stance that the chemical weapons strikes originated from the rebel factions, which are increasingly comprised of Islamic extremists, not freedom fighters, he said. Putin also stated that the path to peace there begins with the Assad regime surrendering its supply of chemical arms.

A coalition of Syrian opposition fighters say they reject the Russian proposal as insufficient, CBS reports.

"We ask that the international community not be content with withdrawing chemical weapons, which are a criminal instrument, but to hold the perpetrator accountable and prosecute him at the International Criminal Court," said Gen. Salim Idriss, the commander of the Syria National Coalition's military council, in a video.

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Other SNC representatives echoed these remarks in a press conference earlier this week, saying they would only support a peace initiative that included the prosecution of Assad and anyone within his regime responsible for deploying chemical weapons.

The United Nations will likely release next week the information it has collected from a reported Aug. 21 chemical weapons strike in a suburb outside Damascus. Both sides in the ongoing civil war has blamed the other for the casualties. The White House claims this strike was responsible for more than 1,400 deaths, 400 of which were children.

Kerry left Washington Wednesday night to travel to Geneva for meetings with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Sept. 12-13.

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"Our goal here is to hear from the Russians about the modalities of their ideas that they have put forward, and to assess whether they will meet our requirement for the final disposition of Assad's chemical weapons," said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Wednesday. "In this stage of the process, our goal here is to test the seriousness of this proposal, to talk about the specifics of how this would get done, what are the mechanics of identifying, verifying, securing, and ultimately destroying the chemical weapons."

Psaki said the administration is engaged in three parallel tracks. In addition to these talks, it is pursuing a U.N. Security Council resolution and working to convince the U.S. Congress to keep the credible threat of a U.S. strike in Syria alive.

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