Kerry talks tough in Syria encounter with Russia

GENEVA (AP) — Striking a tough tone, U.S.

Secretary of State John Kerry opened swiftly convened talks with Russia

on Syria's

chemical weapons Thursday by bluntly rejecting a Syrian pledge to

begin a "standard process" by turning over information rather

than weapons — and nothing immediately.

That won't do, Kerry declared at an opening news conference, a stone-faced Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at his side.

"The words of the Syrian regime in our judgment are simply not enough."

"This is not a game," Kerry said of the latest developments in a series that has rapidly gone from deadly chemical attacks

to threats of retaliatory U.S. air strikes to Syrian agreement with a Russian plan to turn over the weapons and, finally,

to the crucial matter of working out the difficult details.

"We believe there is nothing standard about

this process at this moment because of the way the regime has behaved,"


declared. And he kept alive the threat of U.S. military action,

saying the turnover of weapons must be complete, verifiable

and timely — "and finally, there ought to consequences if it

doesn't take place."

Adding to the drama, Russian President

Vladimir Putin weighed in from afar, raising eyebrows with an opinion

piece in The

New York Times that chided Americans for seeing themselves as

"exceptional." That was an apparent reference to a comment President

Barack Obama made in his Syria speech Tuesday night, explaining

why he felt the U.S. needed to take action. Congress has shown

little inclination to authorize military action, and a vote on

that has been put off.

Putin also warned that a U.S. strike against

Syria because of chemical weapons use could unleash new terrorist

attacks. And

he still maintained there is "every reason to believe" the weapons

were used by rebels and not by Assad's military. In Washington,

Obama's spokesman said Russia was "isolated and alone" in that


Obama, for his part, said simply that he was hoping for "a concrete result" from the talks.

The back-and-forth was a stark indication of

the challenging work ahead as Kerry, Lavrov and their teams of chemical


experts plunge into talks aimed at finding agreement on how to

dismantle the chemical weapons amid the confusion and danger

of Syria's civil war.

Lavrov seemed to contradict Kerry's negative view of Syrian President Bashar Assad's offer to provide details on his country's

chemical arsenal beginning 30 days after it signs an international convention banning such weapons. Syria's ambassador to

the United Nations said that as of Thursday his country had become a full member of the treaty, which requires destruction

of all chemical weapons. However, the United Nations said it will take at least another 30 days.

The Russian said the initiative must proceed

"in strict compliance with the rules that are established by the


for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons." That suggests Russia

does not agree with the U.S. that this is an exceptional case

and that Syria should face tougher standards than other countries.

"We proceed from the fact that the solution

to this problem will make unnecessary any strike on the Syrian Arab


and I am convinced that our American colleagues, as President

Obama stated, are firmly convinced that we should follow a peaceful

way of resolution to the conflict in Syria." Lavrov said.

The distrust in U.S.-Russia relations was on display even in an off-hand parting exchange at the news conference.

Just before it ended, Kerry asked the Russian translator to repeat part of Lavrov's concluding remarks.

When it was clear that Kerry wasn't going to get an immediate re-translation, Lavrov apparently tried to assure him that he

hadn't said anything controversial. "It was OK, John, don't worry," he said.

"You want me to take your word for it?" Kerry asked Lavrov. "It's a little early for that."

They were smiling at that point.

Shortly after making their opening statements, the two went into a private dinner. Talks were to resume Friday.

The meetings in Geneva got underway as Assad, in an interview with Russia's Rossiya-24 TV, said his government would start

submitting data on its chemical weapons stockpile a month after signing the convention. He also said the Russian proposal

for securing the weapons could work only if the U.S. halted threats of military action.

But Kerry, who met earlier Thursday with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.-Arab League envoy for Syria, made clear the threat remains.

"President Obama has been clear that should diplomacy fail, force might be necessary to deter and degrade Assad's capacity

to deliver these weapons," he said. "It won't get rid of them, but it could change his willingness to use them."

Even as diplomacy took center stage, word surfaced that the CIA has been delivering light machine guns and other small arms

to Syrian rebels for several weeks, following Obama's statement in June that he would provide lethal aid to the rebels.

The U.S. is hoping that an acceptable agreement with the Russians can be part of a binding new U.N. Security Council resolution

being negotiated that demands that Syria's chemical weapons be put under international control and dismantled and condemns

the Aug. 21 attack that led to the current crisis. Russia has long opposed U.N. action on Syria, has vetoed three earlier

resolutions and has not indicated it is willing to go along with one now.

As for arming the Syrian rebels, White House National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said the administration

could not "detail every single type of support that we are providing to the opposition or discuss timelines for delivery,

but it's important to note that both the political and the military opposition are and will be receiving this assistance."

Current and former U.S. intelligence

officials said the CIA has arranged for the Syrian opposition to receive

anti-tank weaponry

such as rocket-propelled grenades through a third party,

presumably one of the Gulf countries that have been arming the rebels.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not

authorized to discuss the classified program publicly.

Loay al-Mikdad, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, told The Associated Press that his group expected to receive weapons

in the near future.

"We are cooperating with the American

administration and have been receiving some logistical and technical

assistance and

there are commitments by the administration to arm us but until

now we have not received any weapons," al-Mikdad said by telephone.

The U.S. officials said the aid has been arriving for more than a month.

The U.S. team with Kerry in Geneva includes

officials who worked on inspection and removal of unconventional weapons


Libya after 2003 and in Iraq after the first Gulf War. Officials

with Kerry said the teams that eventually go into Syria would

have to be an international mix.

The meetings are taking place in the same

hotel where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009 gave

Lavrov a symbolic

"reset button" as a goodwill gesture and a reminder of the Obama

administration's efforts to improve U.S.-Russian relations.