U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Russia to meet with President Vladimir Putin for talks on the crisis in Syria. Russia, a longtime ally of the Syrian regime, and the United States have been at odds since the beginning of the uprising in Syria in March 2011, and are divided over the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia and China have, on three occasions, blocked U.S.-led efforts at the United Nations to pressure Assad to resign. Kerry's visit has come days after Israeli airstrikes on weapons facilities in Syria targeted missiles it says were intended to be transferred to Hezbollah. Russia condemned the attacks and Putin said he had spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. According to U.S. officials, Kerry is hoping to persuade Putin to take a tougher stance on Syria through two new angles: U.S. threats to arm the Syrian opposition and evidence of government use of chemical weapons. Russia's foreign ministry has criticized the West for politicizing the issue of chemical weapons in Syria. Carla Del Ponte, of the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, has suggested chemical weapons were used by opposition fighters rather than the Assad regime. The United States however has dismissed the statement saying it believes that Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles remain under government control.
- Egypt's Prime Minister Hisham Qandil announced nine new ministers in a cabinet reshuffle, but fell short of opposition calls for a complete overhaul and Qandil's replacement.
- Libya's Defense Minister Mohammed Mahmoud al-Bargati has resigned over the siege of government ministries, which have continued despite parliament's adoption of a law banning Qaddafi-era officials.
- Iran has started registering candidates for the presidential election set for June 14, with more conservatives entering than reformists.
- Kurdish lawmakers met with Iraqi officials in order to "break the ice" in efforts toward negotiations over oil exports.
- Israeli media and advocacy group Peace Now has reported a freeze on construction tenders after Prime Minister Netanyahu promised U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry he would "rein in" settlement construction in efforts to renew peace talks.
Arguments and Analysis
The struggle for Syria (Majid Rafizadeh, LA Times)
"My cousin, Ramez, was dead before the echoes of the gunshot that killed him stopped ringing. His 4-year-old daughter, Zeynab, watched him fall on a narrow street in Damascus, but she never heard the shot because she is deaf. She held onto his lifeless hand until a second bullet tore into her chest. She survived.
I tell this story to make it clear that my family and I have experienced the civil war firsthand. Ramez was just one of several family members who lost their lives in the battle against Bashar Assad's police state. My mother, sister and brother, alongside millions of other war-torn Syrian refugees, were forced to flee to Lebanon and then on to Baghdad.
But despite the seriousness and severity of the situation, I don't believe that the United States should intervene militarily in Syria. Any direct or indirect intervention by the U.S. would exacerbate Syria's internal conflict and increase the number of people being displaced and killed."
Reforming the UN security council: mañana, mañana (The Guardian)
"The growing conflagration that is Syria reveals more than just the rival, and increasingly sectarian, agendas of its regional sponsors. It highlights the paralysis at the heart of the body whose job is to keep the international peace - the UN security council. The deadlock inside it is so profound that a simple decision like appointing a special envoy had to be taken by the general assembly instead. Even when the council reaches a decision, its implementation is the cause of friction among its permanent members. After resolution 1973, which established a no-fly zone over Libya, neither Russia nor China can be persuaded that a decision taken in the name of protecting civilians is not a cover for regime change.
After almost 70 years, the security council suffers from the twin deficits of representativeness and legitimacy. In those seven decades membership of the UN has almost quadrupled, from 51 to 193 states, but the number of permanent members (the P5) is the same today as it was when it was created, and the number of non-permanent members has increased only from six to 10. Whereas the original ratio was one permanent member for 10 countries, today it is one permanent member for nearly 40 countries. Whole regions of the world are locked out of the decision-making. About 85% of the items on the council's agenda deal with Africa, and yet the continent has no voice equivalent to a permanent member."
--By Jennifer Parker and Mary Casey
AFP/Getty Images/MLADEN ANTONOV