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As Secretary of State John Kerry was preparing to sit down with his Russian counterpart Thursday to discuss whether the Assad regime's chemical weapons can be handed over to international monitors, the commander of the rebel Free Syrian Army was telling NPR that "the Russian initiative is just a lie."
Russia is "playing games. ... They know that the regime in Damascus is a criminal regime," Gen. Salim Idris told Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep.
The general's words echoed a statement he made in a video posted online late Wednesday, The Associated Press reports. "We announce our definitive rejection of the Russian initiative to place chemical weapons under international custody," Idris said in that video.
Kerry is in Geneva for at least two days of talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The U.S. delegation will be testing the credibility of the Russian plan — which Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime says it has accepted. "Aides to Kerry expect an intense couple of days of meetings with Russian officials as they go over the nitty gritty of how this proposal might work," reports NPR's Michele Kelemen, who is in Geneva.
The talks in Geneva have been preceded, of course, by last month's chemical weapons attack near Damascus and the Obama administration's talk of striking the regime's military assets as a way of holding the Syrian leader responsible and deterring future use of such weapons.
Russia, a longtime ally of Syria, has been trying to prevent any U.S. military action. In Thursday's New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin warns that "a strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism."
In his conversation with NPR, Idris said many Syrians "can't understand why the Russians and Iranians are supporting the [Assad] regime" and why "our friends are delaying" — a reference to President Obama's decision to hold off on any missile strikes.
Many Syrians, Idris said, are also "very frustrated and they think that our friends will leave us alone."
The rebel commander disputed a new Washington Post report that says "the CIA has begun delivering weapons to rebels in Syria, ending months of delay in lethal aid that had been promised by the Obama administration, according to U.S. officials and Syrian figures."
His fighters have not received "any weapons from our American friends," Idris told NPR. The assistance they have received, according to Idris, has been in the form of "humanitarian aid, food and medical materials" as well as some flak jackets, light vehicles and communications equipment.