Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the final plenary meeting of the Valdai International Discussion Club in the Novgorod Region, on the banks of Lake Valdai, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013. Putin said Thursday that he could run for a fourth presidential term in 2018. If he serves four terms, that would keep him in power for about a quarter century and make him the nationís longest-serving leader since Josef Stalin. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)

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Putin says he can't guarantee Syria will turn over arsenal

  • Article by: Sergei L. Loiko
  • Los Angeles Times
  • September 19, 2013 - 7:09 PM

– Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday he cannot vouch that Syria will surrender its chemical weapons arsenal and suggested that Israel could help assure the success of the U.S.-Russian deal by surrendering its alleged nuclear weapons.

“I don’t know whether we will manage to persuade” Syrian President Bashar Assad to go along with the plan, Putin said at the Valdai Discussion Club, an annual Russian political forum. “Up to now, everything looks as if Syria completely agreed with our plan. But I can’t say whether we will manage to complete the process by 100 percent.”

Putin implied that the prospects for peace and chemical weapons disarmament in Syria would be bolstered if Israel gave up its own suspected cache of nuclear arms, believed to be the only such arsenal in the Middle East.

“Syria came into possession of chemical weapons as an alternative to Israel’s nuclear weapons,” Putin said at the gathering of political analysts and experts in Valdai, about 250 miles northwest of Moscow. “The technological superiority of Israel in the region is so obvious that it doesn’t require nuclear weapons, which makes [Israel] a target and creates a special problem for it.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached the deal to eliminate the Syrian arsenal following a series of chemical weapons attacks against civilians near Damascus last month that the United States and its allies say were carried out by Syrian troops.

At Thursday’s session, Putin was pressed by Dmitri Simes, a U.S. political expert of Russian origin, who said that “America can’t tolerate evil not to be punished” and will not allow Assad to stay in power in Syria. The Russian president argued that Al-Qaida might take power if the Syrian leader were deposed.

Putin spoke about the deteriorating situation in Iraq, Libya and Egypt, saying that there are whole regions in the world that can’t live by the dictates of U.S. and European democracy. “In Libya they fought for democracy,” Putin said. “Where is that democracy? Everybody is ­fighting against everybody else. They killed the U.S. ambassador!”

Putin insisted that Washington should bear equal responsibility with Moscow for the success of the plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons, and he reiterated his previous insistence that Russia doesn’t want to keep Assad in power by any and all means.

Nikolai Zlobin, president of the Washington-based Center on Global Interests, said Putin realizes that Russia doesn’t have as much clout with Assad as the Soviet Union had with the Syrian leader’s late father, Hafez Assad.

“Washington would certainly love to hear from Russia that they have enough influence over Assad to make him comply. But no one today, even Putin himself, can guarantee that Assad will continue to fulfill his commitments and obligations to the end,” Zlobin said.

“Putin wants [President] Obama to act as a guarantor of this plan too, not only because he wants to share responsibility. Putin wants this initiative to succeed by all means because he also counts on it to have the potential to become a firmer base for a new stage of cooperation with the United States.”

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