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Thursday, 12 December 2013 17:19

UN inspectors confirm Syria chemical attack

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - U.N inspectors say chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian conflict, definitely in a widely publicized Aug. 21 attack near Damascus and probably in four other locations between March and late August.
 
The report by U.N. chemical weapons experts led by Swedish professor Ake Sellstrom did not determine whether the government or opposition were responsible for the alleged attacks.
 
Sellstrom issued an initial report on Sept. 16 which concluded that evidence collected in the Ghouta area of Damascus following an Aug. 21 attack provided "clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used." Graphic video footage showed dozens of people gasping for air and bodies lined up.
 
Thursday's report said evidence indicated chemical weapons were also probably used in Khan al Assal, Jobar, Saraqueb and Ashrafiah Sahnaya.
Published in National News

   BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) — Russia's President Vladimir Putin says that Syria's move to join an international convention banning chemical weapons has proven its good faith.

   Speaking at a summit of an international security grouping dominated by Russia and China, Putin said Friday the move showed that Syria has "serious intentions to embark on that path."

   Syria made a formal bid Thursday to join the Chemical Weapons Convention. The U.N. welcomed the move, but said that it could take 30 days for Syria to become a member.

   Russia proposed on Monday that Syria surrenders control over its chemical weapons to the international community for its eventual dismantling to avoid a U.S. military strike, and Damascus quickly jumped at the offer. Top U.S. and Russian diplomats are holding talks in Geneva to discuss the plan's specifics.

Published in National News

   GENEVA -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva Thursday morning to test the seriousness of a Russian proposal to secure Syria's chemical weapons.

   Kerry and a team of U.S. experts will have at least two days of meetings with their Russian counterparts on Thursday and Friday. They hope to emerge with an outline of how some 1,000 tons of chemical weapons stocks and precursor materials as well as potential delivery systems can be safely inventoried and isolated under international control in an active war zone and then destroyed.

   Officials with Kerry said they would be looking for a rapid agreement on principles for the process with Russians, including a demand for a speedy Syrian accounting of their stockpiles.

   One official said the task is "doable but difficult and complicated."

   The official said the U.S. is looking for signs of Russian seriousness and thinks it will know in a relatively short time if the Russians are trying to stall. Another official described the ideas that the Russians have presented so far as "an opening position" that needs a lot of work and input from technical experts. The U.S. team includes officials who worked on inspection and removal of unconventional weapons from Libya after 2003 and in Iraq after the first Gulf War.

   The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publically on the sensitive negotiations.

   The hastily arranged meeting in Geneva comes as the White House tries to pin success or failure of the diplomatic track on Russia's willingness to take a tough line with its ally Syria. Syrian rebels, however, are disappointed at best in President Barack Obama's decision to forgo a military strike in favor of an agreement to take access to chemical weapons away from President Bashar Assad.

   At the same time, the CIA has begun delivering light weapons and other munitions to the rebels over the past two weeks, along with separate deliveries by the State Department of vehicles and other gear, The Washington Post reported late Wednesday. The deliveries have lagged, the newspaper said, because of logistical challenges and U.S. fears that any assistance could wind up in the hands of extremists. Some U.S. lawmakers have chided the administration, which said months ago it would send lethal aid, for not moving more quickly to help the rebels.

   Obama also found opposition in Congress to putting on hold his request for authorization to punish Assad militarily for his government's alleged role in a chemical attack on Damascus suburbs last month. His Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, asserted in an opinion piece in The New York Times that a potential strike by the U.S. would create more victims and could spread the conflict beyond Syria and unleash a new wave of terrorism.

   In meetings planned for later Thursday and again Friday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Kerry will prod Moscow to put forward a credible and verifiable plan to inventory, quarantine and destroy Syria's chemical weapons stocks, according to U.S. officials.

   Kerry is accompanied by American chemical weapons experts to look at and possibly expand on Russian ideas for the complex task of safely dealing with the vast stockpiles in the midst of a brutal and unpredictable conflict. Russian technical experts will join Lavrov in the meetings.

   "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," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said shortly before Kerry left Washington.

   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 would hold Syria accountable for using chemical weapons. Russia, however, has long opposed U.N. action on Syria, vetoed three earlier resolutions, blocked numerous, less severe condemnations and has not indicated it is willing to go along with one now.

   A senior U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because contacts have been private, said Thursday's meeting will be an exploratory session to gauge whether they can embark on "the herculean task" of dismantling Syria's chemical weapons while the country is at war.

   In his column posted Wednesday on the Times website, Putin asserted that 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," Putin wrote. "Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan `you're either with us or against us."'

   Putin said he favored taking advantage of Syria's willingness to place its chemical arsenal under international control and welcomed Obama's interest in continuing to discuss Syria with Russia.

   "If we can avoid force against Syria, this will improve the atmosphere in international affairs and strengthen mutual trust," he wrote. "It will be our shared success and open the door to cooperation on other critical issues."

   American ships in the Mediterranean Sea remained ready to strike Syria if ordered, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said. Syrian rebels appeared skeptical that U.S. forces would be put to use, saying the Americans have repeatedly reneged on promises to assist their rebellion. They pointed to Obama's statement in June that he would provide lethal aid to the rebels.

   Meanwhile, Assad's forces have gained the advantage.

   "We're on our own," Mohammad Joud, an opposition fighter in the war-shattered northern city of Aleppo, said via Skype. "I always knew that, but thanks to Obama's shameful conduct, others are waking up to this reality as well."

   Ayham Kamel, a Middle East analyst at the Eurasia Group in London, said the Syrian opposition will struggle with morale and sense of purpose.

   "Assad's regime is going to be stronger because while they've agreed to give up their chemical weapons, they get to keep everything else to fight the opposition that has lost territory in the past year and has now suffered a big blow," Kamel said.

   White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to put a deadline on diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff but said bringing Syria's chemical weapons stockpile under international control "obviously will take some time."

   "Russia is now putting its prestige on the line," Carney said Wednesday. Asked if U.S. prestige also was on the line, Carney responded: "The United States leads in these situations. And it's not always popular and it's not always comfortable."

   On Capitol Hill, action on any congressional resolution authorizing U.S. military intervention in Syria was on hold, even an alternative that would have reflected Russia's diplomatic offer. Senators instead debated an energy bill.

   "The whole terrain has changed," Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters after a meeting of Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "We want to make sure we do nothing that's going to derail what's going on."

   That didn't stop Republicans from announcing their opposition to Obama's initial call for military strikes and criticizing the commander in chief. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., accused the president of engaging in "pinball diplomacy."

Published in National News

Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill is joining congressional colleagues in responding to President Obama's decision to pause in taking military action against Syria for its' use of chemical weapons.  Negotiators are attempting to iron out a Syrian-Russian plan for Syria to relinquish its' chemical weapons arsenal. Senator McCaskill says she will continue to evaluate and monitor the situation daily, adding “The President made an important case for why Syria’s use of chemical weapons has serious implications for America’s national security and that a credible threat of military force can strengthen the chances of a diplomatic solution."

Published in Local News
Wednesday, 11 September 2013 00:11

President Obama's speech on Syria - full text

Text of President Barack Obama's speech on Syria, as provided by the Federal News Service:

   My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk to you about Syria, why it matters and where we go from here. Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war. Over a hundred thousand people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America has worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition and to shape a political settlement.

   But I have resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else's civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

   The situation profoundly changed, though, on Aug. 21st, when Assad's government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening, men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath, a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk. On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off limits, a crime against humanity and a violation of the laws of war.

   This was not always the case. In World War I, American GIs were among the many thousands killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe. In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust. Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them. And in 1997, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved an international agreement prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, now joined by 189 governments that represent 98 percent of humanity.

   On Aug. 21st, these basic rules were violated, along with our sense of common humanity.

   No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria. The world saw thousands of videos, cellphone pictures and social media accounts from the attack. And humanitarian organizations told stories of hospitals packed with people who had symptoms of poison gas.

   Moreover, we know the Assad regime was responsible. In the days leading up to Aug. 21st, we know that Assad's chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area they 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.

   Shortly after those rockets landed, the gas spread, and hospitals filled with the dying and the wounded. We know senior figures in Assad's military machine reviewed the results of the attack. And the regime increased their shelling of the same neighborhoods in the days that followed. We've also studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site that tested positive for sarin.

   When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory. But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied.

   The question now is what the United States of America and the international community is prepared to do about it, because what happened to those people, to those children, is not only a violation of international law, it's also a danger to our security.

   Let me explain why. If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons.

   As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them. Over time our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield, and it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons and to use them to attack civilians.

   If fighting spills beyond Syria's borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel.

   And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad's ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path.

   This is not a world we should accept. This is what's at stake. And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime's ability to use them and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use. That's my judgment as commander in chief.

   But I'm also the president of the world's oldest constitutional democracy. So even though I possessed the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right, in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security, to take this debate to Congress. I believe our democracy is stronger when the president acts with the support of Congress, and I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together.

   This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president, and more and more burdens on the shoulders of our troops, while sidelining the people's representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.

   Now, I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of any military action, no matter how limited, is not going to be popular. After all, I've spent four and a half years working to end wars, not to start them. Our troops are out of Iraq, our troops are coming home from Afghanistan, and I know Americans want all of us in Washington, especially me, to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home, putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class. It's no wonder, then, that you're asking hard questions. So let me answer some of the most important questions that I've heard from members of Congress and that I've read in letters that you've sent to me.

   First, many of you have asked: Won't this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are still recovering from our involvement in Iraq. A veteran put it more bluntly: This nation is sick and tired of war.

   My answer is simple. I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective: deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad's capabilities.

   Others have asked whether it's worth acting if we don't take out Assad. As some members of Congress have said, there's no point in simply doing a pinprick strike in Syria.

   Let me make something clear: The United States military doesn't do pinpricks.

   Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver. I don't think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can make Assad or any other dictator think twice before using chemical weapons.

   Other questions involve the dangers of retaliation. We don't dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military. Any other - any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day. Neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise. And our ally Israel can defend itself with overwhelming force, as well as the unshakable support of the United States of America.

   Many of you have asked a broader question: Why should we get involved at all in a place that's so complicated and where, as one person wrote to me, those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights? It's true that some of Assad's opponents are extremists. But al-Qaida will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death. The majority of the Syrian people and the Syrian opposition we work with just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom. And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.

   Finally, many of you have asked, why not leave this to other countries or seek solutions short of force?

   And several people wrote to me, we should not be the world's policeman. I agree. And I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions. Over the last two years my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warnings and negotiations. But chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.

   However, over the last few days we've seen some encouraging signs in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin. The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons and even said they'd join the chemical weapons convention, which prohibits their use.

   It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad's strongest allies.

   I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I'm sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin. I've spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies, France and the United Kingdom. And we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.

   We'll also give U.N. inspectors the opportunity to report their findings about what happened on Aug. 21st. And we will continue to rally support from allies, from Europe to the Americas, from Asia to the Middle East who agree on the need for action.

   Meanwhile, I've ordered our military to maintain their current posture, to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails. And tonight I give thanks again to our military and their families for their incredible strength and sacrifices.

   My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements. It has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world's a better place because we have borne them.

   And so to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America's military might with a failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.

   To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor, for sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.

   Indeed, I'd ask every member of Congress, and those of you watching at home tonight, to view those videos of the attack, and then ask: What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas and we choose to look the other way? Franklin Roosevelt once said our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideals and principles that we have cherished are challenged.

   Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used. America is not the world's policeman. Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional.

   With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.

   Thank you. God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

Published in National News
Tuesday, 10 September 2013 00:37

Oil falls below $109 a barrel on Syria proposal

   BANGKOK (AP) — Oil prices, which have shot up in recent days over the threat of a U.S. strike against Syria, fell below $109 a barrel Tuesday after Damascus reacted favorably to a proposal to turn over its chemical weapons.

   Benchmark oil for October delivery fell $1.16 per barrel to $108.36 at midday Bangkok time in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.01 to close at $109.52 a barrel on the Nymex on Monday.

   Oil prices have risen sharply in recent days following President Barack Obama's call for military action against the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad in retaliation for what the White House says was a chemical weapons attack against civilians.

   But on Monday, there was reason to hope for a diplomatic solution when Syria's foreign minister welcomed a suggestion to move all the country's chemical weapons under international control. Analysts said it could also hurt Obama's attempts at gaining congressional support for military intervention.

   "Backed by the U.N., Russia is arranging for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to avert a confrontation," said Vishnu Varathan of Mizuho Bank Ltd. in Singapore. "By deflecting the approaching strike, Russia has also created greater uncertainty in the U.S. Congress on the vote over Syria though the U.S. is still leaning towards a strike." Obama plans to address the nation from the White House on Tuesday about Syria.

   Brent, the benchmark for international crudes, dropped $1.03 to $112.69 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

 

In other energy futures trading on Nymex:

— Wholesale gasoline fell 2.8 cents to $2.774 per gallon.

— Natural gas rose 1 cent to $3.614 per 1,000 cubic feet.

— Heating oil retreated 1.8 cents to $3.0999 per gallon.

Published in National News

   ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — China is warning other world powers of global economic risks of a potential U.S.-led military intervention in Syria'a civil war.

   Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao says such "military action would definitely have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price."

   He spoke in St. Petersburg on Thursday ahead of a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 leading world economies.

   He cited estimates that a $10 rise in oil prices could push down global growth by 0.25 percent.

   He urged a negotiated U.N. solution to the standoff over allegations that Syria's government used chemical weapons against its own people, expressing hope that "the world economic balance will become more stable rather than more complex and more challenging."

Published in National News

   WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is holding its first public hearing about U.S. plans for military intervention in Syria as President Barack Obama seeks to convince skeptical Americans and their lawmakers about the need to respond to last month's alleged sarin gas attack outside Damascus.

   Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey were to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday. A classified briefing open to all members of Congress was to take place as well.

   The president's request for congressional authorization for limited military strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime is at the heart of all the discussions planned in Washington over the next several days as Obama sends his top national security advisers to the Capitol for a flurry of briefings. And with the outcome of any vote in doubt in a war-weary Congress, Obama was to meet Tuesday with leaders of the House and Senate armed services committees, the foreign relations committees and the intelligence committees.

   Obama won conditional support Monday from two of his fiercest foreign policy critics, Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

   A congressional vote against Obama's request "would be catastrophic in its consequences" for U.S. credibility abroad, McCain told reporters outside the White House following an hour-long private meeting with the president.

   But despite Obama's effort to assuage the two senators' concerns, neither appeared completely convinced afterward. They said they'd be more inclined to back Obama if the U.S. sought to destroy the Assad government's launching capabilities and committed to providing more support to rebels seeking to oust Assad from power.

   "There will never be a political settlement in Syria as long as Assad is winning," Graham said.

   After a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, polls show most Americans opposed to any new military action overseas. That reluctance is being reflected by senators and representatives, some of whom say Obama still hasn't presented bulletproof evidence that Assad's forces were responsible for the Aug. 21 attack that U.S. intelligence says killed 1,429 people, including more than 400 children. Others say the president hasn't explained why intervening is in America's interest.

   After a Labor Day weekend spent listening to concerned constituents, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said the administration needed to make its case on these points, if only to counter the misinformation and conspiracy theories circulating about Obama's plans.

   "Several people asked me if we were only interested in getting Syria's oil," Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "It's important that Americans get the facts."

   Petroleum is hardly the most pertinent question. Even before Syria's hostilities began, its oil industry contributed less than half a percent of the world's total output. And Obama has expressly ruled out sending American troops into Syria or proposing deeper involvement in the Arab country's violent civil war.

   But such queries are a poignant reminder of the task awaiting the administration as it argues that the United States must exert global leadership in retaliating for what apparently was the deadliest use of chemical weapons anywhere over the past 25 years.

   Obama has insisted he was considering a military operation that was limited in duration and scope. The White House said Monday that Obama was open to working with Congress to make changes in the language of the resolution, which Congress was expected to begin considering next week.

   In a conference call Monday with House Democrats, several members of Obama's own party challenged the administration's assertions.

   In a post on his website, Rep. Rick Nolan, D-Minn., reflected a view shared by at least some of his colleagues: "I am vehemently opposed to a military strike that would clearly be an act of war against Syria, especially under such tragic yet confusing circumstances as to who is responsible for the use of chemical weapons."

   Their skepticism is shared by many tea party Republicans and others, whose views range from ideological opposition to any U.S. military action overseas to narrower fears about authorizing the use of force without clear constraints on timing, costs and scope of the intervention.

   The most frequent recurring questions: How convinced is American intelligence about the Assad regime's culpability for the chemical attack, a decade after woefully misrepresenting the case that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction? And how does a military response advance U.S. national security interests?

   Pressuring the administration in the opposite direction are hawks and proponents of humanitarian intervention among both Democrats and Republicans who feel what Obama is proposing is far too little.

   Obama's task is complicated further because he is leaving for a three-day trip to Europe on Tuesday night, visiting Stockholm, Sweden, and then attending an economic summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

   The simple case for action is the administration's contention that the sarin gas attack violated not only the international standard against using such weapons but also Obama's "red line," set more than a year ago, that such WMD use wouldn't be tolerated.

   Intervening in Syria's conflict is no light matter, however. Having claimed more than 100,000 lives in the past 2½ years, the fight has evolved from a government crackdown on a largely peaceful protest movement into a full-scale civil war scarily reminiscent of the one that ravaged Iraq over the last decade. Ethnic massacres have been committed by both sides, which each employ terrorist organizations as allies.

   Since Obama's stunning announcement Saturday that he'd seek congressional authority, dozens of members of Congress have issued statements. Most have praised the administration for its course of action, and several have suggested they are leaning one way or another. But precious few have come out definitively one way or another.

   McCain said he believed many members were still "up for grabs."

Published in National News
Tuesday, 03 September 2013 02:01

Durbin headed to Washington for Syria debate

   CHICAGO (AP) - U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin has cancelled a Tuesday luncheon appearance before Chicago's business and political elite to head to Washington and begin preparing for congressional debate on possible action in Syria.

   The No. 2 Senate Democrat was among the 15 members of Congress briefed on the situation by telephone last week.

   President Barack Obama says he'll seek congressional approval for military strikes against the Assad regime. He's trying to rally support among Americans and congressmen.

   Durbin was to speak about sentencing for non-violent drug offenders Tuesday before the City Club of Chicago. His office issued a notice Monday that as a member of Senate leadership and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he'll be in Washington preparing for debate instead.

 

Published in Local News

United Nations experts are investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria as the United States and allies prepare for the possibility of a punitive strike against President Bashar Assad's regime, blamed by the Syrian opposition for the attack. The international aid group Doctors Without Borders says at least 355 people were killed in the Aug. 21 attack.

 

Here's a look at key Syria developments around the world Thursday and Friday amid heightened tensions over potential military action:

 

SYRIA:

 

Assad said his country "will defend itself against any aggression," signaling defiance to mounting Western warnings of a possible punitive strike. U.N. chemical weapons inspectors toured stricken rebel-held areas near the Syrian capital of Damascus for a third day.

 

BRITAIN:

 

The British Parliament voted down endorsing military action against Syria, despite a strong push by Prime Minister David Cameron to support potential U.S. strikes against Assad. British Defense Minister Philip Hammond confirmed that the country's forces would not be involved in any strike.

 

FRANCE:

 

The French military is ready to commit forces to an operation in Syria if President Francois Hollande approves it, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said. Hollande, who met with the head of the Syrian opposition, stopped short of announcing a military intervention.

 

UNITED NATIONS:

 

A meeting of the U.N. Security Council's permanent members ended quickly with no sign of progress on an agreement over Syria's crisis. U.N. experts in Syria are expected to leave the country Saturday.

 

ISRAEL:

 

Thousands of Israelis crowded gas-mask distribution facilities to get free masks, fearing Israel could be targeted in retaliation by Syria if it is attacked. A mob forcibly took gas masks from a distribution center in Jerusalem on Wednesday. Officers were deployed to maintain order Thursday in Haifa, where more than 5,000 people waited for protective kits.

 

TURKEY:

 

Officials placed Turkey on alert against possible chemical attacks from Syria and stocked food and gas masks along their shared border. Bunkers were designated in seven border areas to protect people in the area.

 

IRAN:

 

President Hassan Rouhani said his country will press forward with efforts to ward off military action by the U.S. and its allies against the Tehran-backed Syrian regime.

 

UNITED STATES:

 

White House officials said President Barack Obama was preparing for the possibility of launching unilateral American military action against Syria within days, after the British Parliament rejected sending that country's forces to support a military strike. Obama also spoke by phone with Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who has asked the president to make a sharper case on the legal justification for any military strike in Syria and its objective. The administration shared intelligence with lawmakers aimed at convincing them Syria's government used chemical weapons in last week's attack.

 

RUSSIA:

 

Russia's foreign ministry asked the U.N. to continue its inspection of places where chemical weapons might have been used in Syria. A foreign minister spokesman said the team should inspect three other locations, including a suburb of Aleppo, where the government in Damascus alleges the rebels have used poisoned gas.

 

GERMANY:

 

A poll by ZDF television found that a majority of Germans oppose Western military intervention in Syria and don't want their country to provide backing for any U.S.-led strike.

 

LEBANON:

 

Lebanese Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour said any international military action against Syria would pose a "serious threat" to the security and stability of the region, particularly Lebanon.

 

EGYPT:

 

Egyptian foreign minister Nabil Fahmy said his country strongly opposes military action against Syria and would not support possible punitive strikes by the U.S. and its allies.

 

ROMANIA:

 

Romania's foreign ministry told its citizens in Syria to leave the country "as soon as possible." They were told to get out via Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Published in National News
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Hot Spot Policing Targets Tower Grove South

St. Louis, MO  --  St. Louis police are back on the hot-spot policing beat in a south city neighborhood.   The Metropolitan Police Department's Command Van wi...

Miley Cyrus Scottrade Concert Canceled

St. Louis, MO -- The show will NOT go on!  The Miley Cyrus concert scheduled for tonight at Scottrade Center has been canceled.   Cyrus was forced to cancel h...

Fluoride Will Stay In Missouri Water Unless Customers N…

 JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Public water systems could be required to notify Missouri customers before eliminating fluoride from drinking water.   The Missouri...

Missouri Unemployment Rate Rises

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri's unemployment rate increased in March, though the size of payrolls also grew.      The Department of Economic Develop...

Illinois Strip Club Tax Not As Profitable As Expected

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois officials say a strip club tax has generated less than 40 percent of the money that was expected when the surcharge was approved.   ...

Missouri Senate Supports Additional Donor Tax Credits

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - Missouri could award additional tax credits for donations to pregnancy resource centers, food pantries and maternity homes under legislation endorsed ...

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