Assad: We'll start handing over our chemical weapons when the U.S. stops arming Syria's rebels

I … don’t remember this being part of the offer.

Obama had better run it past Putin right away to see how he wants the U.S. to respond.

Syria will fulfil an initiative to hand over its chemical weapons only when the United States stops threatening to strike Syria, RIA news agency quoted President Bashar al-Assad as saying in a television interview…

“When we see the United States really wants stability in our region and stops threatening, striving to attack, and also ceases arms deliveries to terrorists, then we will believe that the necessary processes can be finalized,” he was quoted as saying in an interview with Russian state television.

He said that in an interview with Russian state television, naturally. Putin told reporters on Monday that the White House must withdraw its threat of an attack on Syria as a precondition to launching the big face-saving weapons inspections charade at the UN but, unless I missed it, said nothing about the rebels. Now here’s Assad upping the ante on the same day that U.S. papers are announcing that American weapons shipments to the rebels have begun. There’s no way Obama will agree to it, needless to say. He accepted the UN deal because it preserved more of his credibility than a landslide defeat in Congress would have, but the more Putin humiliates him and the more demands are placed by Russian and Syrian on the U.S. to preemptively neuter its military options, the more O’s credibility calculus will change. At some point here, continuing this pattycake session with the Kremlin and their degenerate client in Syria will cost him more political capital than simply going ahead and bombing will.

That makes me wonder what the angle is to what Assad said here. Obviously he wants to drag out negotiations at the UN, but the U.S. isn’t going to haggle over a demand that they withdraw completely from the battlefield in Syria. If Assad insists on it, negotiations will collapse quickly and then we’re back to the bombing scenario. Maybe this is more of a rhetorical play to get western media to pay extra attention to the rebels and their relationship with the U.S. If Assad can make this a key point of debate at the UN, he can do damage to the White House even if he’s prepared to eventually drop the demand. The media is filled with stories lately about how radical the rebels are: Mike McCaul said just yesterday that at least 50 percent of them are “bad guys” and Mother Jones is out with a piece this morning exploring how lax the controls are among the “moderate” rebels in keeping U.S. aid away from jihadis. Then there’s this, via the Daily Caller, from an expert who spent time with the rebels in Syria:

“The ‘moderate’ force which we are told about supposedly consists of those rebel brigades aligned with the Supreme Military Command, of Major-General Salim Edriss,” he continued. ”Most of the units aligned with the SMC actually come from a 20-unit strong bloc called the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front. This includes some powerful brigades, such as Liwa al-Islam in the Damascus area, Liwa al Farouq and Liwa al Tawhid. These and the overwhelming majority of the units aligned with the SMC are Islamist formations, who adhere to a Muslim Brotherhood-type outlook.”…

“I spent some time with the Tawhid Brigade in Aleppo city at the height of the fighting there,” Spyer said. ” I interviewed one of the leaders of the brigade. I’ve been in the Middle East for a long time and have worked on these issues for a long time. This was an Islamist fighting force, adhering to an Islamist ideology. So even those forces nominally aligned with western supported bodies are themselves overwhelmingly Islamist in outlook (there may be a very small and marginal number of forces who are ostensibly secular, but these are of no military significance). It’s my contention that the real power in the rebellion lies not in the external structures, but among the commanders of the major fighting groups. These men are Islamists.”

Having Russia and Syria make a big stink at the UN about the rebels being “terrorists” who shouldn’t be supplied with arms will spur more coverage like that, which will drive support in the U.S. for intervening in Syria even lower. That doesn’t mean the White House will agree to shut the weapons pipeline to Assad’s enemies — at this point, simple credibility demands that it stay open — but it can make life even tougher for O.

By the way, in some precincts of the Obama-admiring media today, the Russian denouement is being treated as a big win. No foolin’.

Update: Ed suggests this as a video complement to the post.

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