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September 16th, 2013
09:21 AM ET

United Nations Will Reveal Chemical Weapons Report

U.N. inspectors will release their official report Monday on the use of chemical weapons from an August attack in Damascus, Syria. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon may have thought he wasn't on camera Friday when he said this of today's vital report:

"I believe the report will be an overwhelming report that chemical weapons were used even though I cannot say publicly at this time."

The U.N. leader added Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had committed many crimes against humanity and would eventually face a "process of accountability."

One official tells Walsh it's likely the report was complete by that meeting and Ban Ki-moon may have already seen the findings before giving his statement.

The U.N. inspectors report on the August 21st gas attacks will be presented to the security council at 11 a.m.  in enough detail for others to work out who was behind the attacks, though it's not the inspectors job to do so.

The U.N. says Syria now has officially joined the chemical weapons convention, whose rules mean it must declare all those weapons by mid-November.

That's not fast enough for the United States or Russia who agreed in Geneva, Switzerland, that Syria must tell reveal their weapons in a week.

In Syria's first major comments on the deal, its information minister told ITV News it wants to wait for a U.N. resolution to set the timing of its disarmament.

Now another round of negotiations begins, perhaps fast, perhaps torturous, to find a wording for a resolution that can back up what was agreed in Geneva last week.

Some major questions remain to be negotiated.  A diplomat reveals one major point is: will a U.N. resolution blame Assad and demand a trial for those who ordered the attacks?

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September 13th, 2013
05:53 AM ET

Iconic NJ Boardwalk Engulfed In Flames

One year after residents in a Jersey Shore community faced the decimation of their neighborhood by Superstorm Sandy, a massive fire causes another devastating scene.  CNN's Don Lemon reports.

A massive fire that started small, as amateur video shows it erupting at an ice cream stand around 2pm, swelled with the wind Thursday.

In Seaside Park and Seaside Heights, New Jersey, many businesses are damaged or destroyed and many lives upended with six blocks of boardwalk gone.

Christine Hemingway, an employee at Kohr's Frozen Custard Shop, escaped the fire but says, "My manager came in the stand and told me to get out because there was smoke coming up through the boardwalk. We ran away and turned around again and there were just flames coming out of the building."

Hundreds of firefighters eventually containing the fire by building a 20-foot wide trench.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said, "I said to my staff I feel like I want to throw up."

While repairs to the boardwalk after the massive storm Sandy let the attraction be open for the summer season in May, the state's resolve will be tested once again now.

Christie:  "And listen, this is us. So as soon as this is over, we'll pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and we'll get back to work."

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September 12th, 2013
10:23 AM ET

Should World Trust Putin After Open Letter?

He says he hopes his "friends" in Syria bring their chemical weapons under control and also "have them destroyed" but Vladmir Putin's role as the last, best hope for diplomacy in this crisis isn't winning believers in Washington. CNN's Brian Todd reports.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican on the Armed Services Committee says, "the Russians are part of the problem in Syria. They are not credibly part of the solution."

This skepticism builds as President Putin writes an open letter in the New York Times  saying it is not the Syrian government that should be blamed for the use of chemical weapons in the country. He writes:

"There is every reason to believe it was used not by the Syrian Army, but by opposition forces, to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons."

France says the United Nations will probably publish its report on the August chemical attack on Monday.  The country says there will be indications in the report the Assad regime was behind the attack.

Senators Cornyn, John McCain and others have been ticking through laundry lists of why they believe Putin won't follow through on getting the Syrians to give up their alleged chemical weapons.

They cite planeloads of Russian weapons sent to the Syrian regime for hefty profits, nearly $1 billion worth in 2011 alone.

There's also a Russian naval base in Syria.

Julia Ioffe, senior editor at the New Republic, spent three years as a journalist in Russia. She says Putin views his role in the world "to be a counterweight to America."

Though Senator Diane Feinstein and others believe Putin does want to reach a deal to end this crisis and that he doesn't want Syria to have chemical weapons.

Ioffe says Putin wants to be the cause of attention and show President Obama that he has the ability to end this issue peacefully.

The reporter notes the Russian president wants "to be center stage, to be somebody that you reckon with, somebody that you have to come to and seek his approval and you have to come and kiss his ring."

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September 11th, 2013
05:50 AM ET

President Obama: Let's Try Diplomacy First

President Obama spoke from the East Room of the White House to the American people and the world Tuesday night in a speech giving his position on Syria. CNN's Brianna Keilar reports.

The President laid out some of his case for military strikes against Syria but also cautiously embraced a Russian plan to try diplomacy first.

First, the commander in chief told Americans why his administration is certain Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime is responsible for a sarin gas attack the U.S. government says killed more that 1,400 civilians.

President Obama: In the days leading up to the August 21st, we know that Assad's chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.

While he made the case for a military response saying "even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver" later in the speech, he argued against taking action as he pointed to a new Russian brokered proposal for Syria to give up its chemical weapons.

President Obama: I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path.

Keilar says many observers doubt Syria will actually turn over its extensive chemical weapons stockpiles and the administration is concerned the Assad regime may just be stalling.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday, "It has to be swift, it has to be real, it have to be verifiable. It cannot be a delaying tactic."

The diplomat will head to Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday to meet with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov Thursday.

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September 10th, 2013
10:02 AM ET

Obama Considers Option Where Syrians Turn Over All Chemical Weapons

As President Obama prepares to address the nation Tuesday night, it had seemed a military strike was the only option on the table for the U.S. to stand against the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Now what had sounded like a misguided comment that Secretary of State John Kerry made at a news conference, may have turned into a viable alternative diplomatic option.

President Obama told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Monday, "If we can accomplish this limited goal without taking military action that would be my preference."

Kerry proclaimed, "He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn't about to do it and it can't be done obviously."

While a U.S.  official quickly chalked up Kerry's statement as "a rhetorical argument" Russia saw a real game plan in what some considered a gaffe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, "We're calling on the Syrian authorities to not only agree on putting chemical weapons storage under international control, but also for its further destruction."

Syria responded just an hour later, their foreign minister Walid Moallem saying, "I declare that the Syrian Arab Republic welcomes Russia's initiative."

On Tuesday morning, the minister added his country had agreed to the Russian proposal after what Interfax quoted him as calling a "very fruitful round of talks" with Russia's Lavrov a day earlier.

International relations expert Aaron David Miller outlines the details and skepticism many feel.

"You'd have to have a cease-fire. You'd have to have a prolonged period where UN weapons inspectors would come in and it seems to me almost unimaginable."

For now, the Senate has delayed their vote from Wednesday on Syria to consider this new Russian proposal.

President Obama is scheduled to speak to the nation at 9 p.m ET Tuesday night. CNN will carry that speech live.

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September 9th, 2013
06:42 AM ET

Congress Heads Back to Washington

Members of the House and Senate will return to Capitol Hill Monday for the first time since a purported chemical weapons attack in Syria.

CNN's Katie Murray reports.

The debate on a resolution giving President Obama the go-ahead to take military action in Syria is expected to top the agenda.

Though it's far from certain how events will unfold.

What does seem clear is the uphill battle the President faces to convince a divided Congress.

Though for once, the divide is not down party lines.

Democratic Representative Jim McGovern told CNN's Candy Crowley Sunday, Obama should withdraw his request for authorization.

The lawmaker said, "We're being told that there's two choices. Do nothing or bomb Syria. Clearly there have to be some other choices in between. We ought to explore them."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has already passed a rewritten authorization measure, and the Senate could vote on it as early as Thursday or Friday.

The timeline for activity in the house is more vague, but GOP leaders say they will wait for the Senate to approve the measures first.

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, supports Obama's call for military action in Syria, but says the administration has failed to make its case to Congress and the American people.

On CBS's "Face the Nation, " Rep. Rogers said Sunday:

"It is a confusing mess up to this point, and that has been, I think, their biggest challenge on what is an incredibly important issue, and this cannot be about Barack Obama.  It has to be what is in the best interest of the United States of America."

President Obama hasn't said whether he would proceed with a strike should Congress vote against his resolution though White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said the President has the final say.

"The President ultimately is going to make this decision in consultation with Congress on our timeline, as best suits our interests."

President Obama  will speak to CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room" Monday at 6 p.m. ET.

The commander in chief is expected to address the nation on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET.

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September 6th, 2013
09:35 AM ET

At G20, Pres. Obama Fights Amid Tension For Action In Syria

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin's relationship is still chilly as they go into day two of the G20 summit. CNN's Brianna Keilar reports.

President Obama's first one-on-one interaction with Putin lasts 17 seconds, Keilar says.

While they are all smiles, there is an evident chill in the air as tensions deepen between the two nations over Syria, gay rights and NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

When President Obama is asked if there's been any progress in his push for a U.S. led strike against Syria, he responds, "We were talking about the economy this afternoon."

So far, Putin hasn't commented on Syria publicly but his press secretary tows the Russian line saying, "We all need a convincing and legitimate evidence of proof."

Though Syria is the proverbial elephant in the room, it's not even on the official agenda for the economics-driven summit.  That leaves all discussion on foreign policy to be in the margins and behind closed doors.

Still, Obama says, "I think our joint recognition that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not only a tragedy, but also a violation of international law that must be addressed."

Aides to the President say behind the scenes, Obama is out to convince skeptical foreign leaders that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Damasacus.

At home, while many members of Congress are undecided, quite a few lawmakers have already said they plan to vote against supporting military action in Syria.

Things got heated at Senator John McCain's town hall in Phoenix. McCain supports action in Syria but some of his constituents voiced their opinions against action.

The same is true for Democratic head of Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein who says her followers who are against action in Syria have been calling her every day with "overwhelmingly negative" responses.


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September 5th, 2013
09:16 AM ET

Obama-Putin Rift On Eve of G-20

Thursday marks the beginning of the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, but with tension between President Obama and President Putin  mounting on Syria, gay rights and NSA leaker Edward Snowden, some say Obama is walking into the lion's den.

President Obama, commenting on the relationship, has said, "We've kinda hit a wall in terms of additional progress," CNN's Brianna Keilar reports.

President Obama defended his position to launch strikes in Syria Wednesday in Sweden saying "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line when governmnets representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent."

Putin remains vehemently opposed to a military response against the Assad regime, casting doubt over the evidence the U.S. government says it has on chemical weapons use in the country.

Putin saying, "If we have objective, precise data of who is responsible for these crimes, then we'll react.

This is the highest tensions have been between the two world powers since the cold war.

Former ambassador and expert on international peace James F. Collins says, "We will have a very bad patch if there is a military attack on Syria and I think we can expect some pretty frosty times."

Russia and Syria have been strong allies for decades. Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson says, "Russia is very close to Syria. They provide and buy weapons from each other, they kind of are a client state."

Though Russia is not alone in its refusal to endorse military action, Britain and Germany are also no's.

Syria is just one of the issues brining tension between the countries . President Obama canceled his private meeting with Putin several weeks ago after the Russian leader's refusal to extradite NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

While in St. Petersburg, Obama also plans to meet with gay rights activists on Putin's turf as outrage spreads over Russia's new law banning any promotion of gay relationships to minors.

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September 4th, 2013
09:31 AM ET

Here's The Plan For Action In Syria

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee drafts a bipartisan agreement authorizing the use of force in Syria they'll take up for debate on Wednesday. CNN's Jim Scuitto reports.

In trying to appease both war hawks and doves, the bill attempts to limit the scope and length of attacks but also intends to strategically help to strengthen the Syrian opposition.

Here's what the authorization states:

– Strikes against Syria limited to 60 days, option for further 30 days

– Bans troops on the ground, permits rescue mission if needed

Secretaries Kerry and Hagel and General Dempsey, veterans who understand the cost of war, tell Senators Tuesday that limited military action is right and necessary.

Secretary of State John Kerry says:

"Are you going to be comfortable if Assad, as a result of the United States not doing anything, then gasses his people yet again and they - and the world says, 'Why didn't the United States act?'

Senator John McCain, a long supporter of more vigorous U.S. involvement in Syria,  criticizes the President's decision to delay military action until after congressional approval.

"When you tell the enemy you're going to attack them, I'm not to take any time on this, you're going to attack them, they're obviously going to disperse and try to make it harder."

However, President Obama may be making ground with lawmakers. Speaker of the House John Boehner gives his support for military action Tuesday.

Wednesday, the case for military action in Syria moves to the House where Secretaries Kerry and Hagel and General Dempsey can expect tougher questioning than they did in a session Tuesday.

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September 3rd, 2013
09:19 AM ET

White House "Floods the Zone" Trying to Build Support For Action In Syria

The United Nations says the number of refugees from the escalating crisis in Syria has reached 2 million.

Later Tuesday, the Obama administration will send two of its heaviest hitters to Capitol Hill to rally for action abroad,  CNN's Brianna Keilar reports.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a closed door session.

The White House says they might have achieved a "persuasion breakthrough" with two crucial lawmakers – Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham.

McCain says "We want to work to make that resolution something that the majority of both Houses can support," but adds "we still have significant concerns."

Graham stresses, "We don't want endless war."

Congress wants a limited strike and no boots on the ground.

The White House continues to push with their persuasion campaign and President Obama will meet with Speaker John Boehner, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and twelve other key lawmakers today.

And some of these officials may soon be lobbied from a much different direction.

Russia, a friend of the Syrian government, says it will send some of its representatives to meet with members of Congress.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has questioned if chemical weapons were used at all saying, there's "nothing concrete, no names and no proof."

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