Global leaders this week have scrambled to return from vacations and schedule phone conversations and meetings to discuss potential strategies and outcomes for military retaliation against Syria, following last week's chemical attack.
The US has postponed talks with Russia over a Syrian solution and a UN official met with Iranian officials asking them to “stay calm” should a military strike target Syria. Meanwhile, Palestinian officials called off Monday’s planned peace talk with Israel and the Afghan president has turned to Pakistan for help in negotiating peace talks with the Taliban.
Here’s what to keep an eye on:
The Obama administration announced late Monday night that it would postpone bilateral talks with Russia over Syria, citing “ongoing consultations” following last week’s chemical attach on Ghouta.
As the US discusses possible intervention with NATO allies, Russia voiced “regret” over the US decision to stall the meeting, which was scheduled to take place in The Hague today.
“It is a pity that our western partners have decided to cancel the bilateral US-Russian meeting to discuss calls for an international conference on Syria,” Gennady Gatilov, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister wrote on Twitter—later adding that “discussing terms for a political solution were needed now more that ever in the possible military intervention on Syria.”
The Syrian opposition also felt the chemical attack was a point of no return, so to speak, announcing they were “calling off their planned participation in Geneva peace talks.”
Members of the Western-backed Syrian National Council (SNC) took a hard stance this week over plans to hold a peace conference intended to find a solution to the Syria crisis.
"We must punish this dictator, Bashar [al-Assad] the Chemist we call him, and then we can discuss Geneva," coalition Secretary General Badr Jamous told Reuters.
His words, according to the International Business Times, were also “a response to Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov who flagged the talks as a way to prevent a military conflict in the country.”
UN Undersecretary Jeffrey Feltman visited Tehran to meet with Iranian officials on Sunday and “discuss the situation in the region, mainly the war in Syria,” according to Al-Monitor.
The former US assistant secretary of state and ambassador to Lebanon who “used to be one of Tehran’s most active foes in Lebanon” was there for two reasons, Al-Monitor reported.
The first was to discuss the Geneva II peace conference on Syria and the second, while related to Geneva II, was more of “an American message.”
“Feltman suggested that Iran can play an important role in ending the crisis in Syria, given its strong ties with Syrian president Bashar Assad,” an anonymous source told Al-Monitor. “The Iranians mentioned their six-point initiative for peace in Syria, and Feltman listened carefully and gave some remarks. Still, the meeting was cold; this was the first time Iranians had held indirect talks with the Americans directly, like it or not — Feltman is here as a UN official and as an American.”
When Feltman addressed the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Iranian officials reportedly stated that they were “100% sure it was not the Syrian regime and that there was evidence to prove that.”
“There are satellite images and pictures that prove Assad has nothing to do with this condemnable crime; to prove his good will he gave access to the international fact-finding commission to investigate the claims and give its verdict,” the source said, adding that a successful Geneva II “should be preceded by the restoration of a balance of power,” and that Iran should consider its role, and how important it is for the larger goal of returning Syria to a state of peace.
“The Iranians understood that Feltman was calling on them to stay calm if there were strikes on Syria,” the source said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked Pakistan on Monday to help organize peace talks between his government and Taliban extremists, in his first visit to Islamabad since Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif took office.
The president called for “a joint campaign against extremism in both countries,” France 24 reported.
Following outrage over the June opening of a Taliban office in Qatar—which has been “considered a precursor towards talks with US officials”—Karzai told Pakistan that the militia has “publicly refused all contact” with the Afghan High Peace Council.
But while parts of the Pakistani state have been accused of “funding, controlling and sheltering the Taliban,” Islamabad has publicly announced it will “do anything to stop the fighting in Afghanistan.”
On Monday, France 24 said, Karzai acknowledged that the "continued menace of terrorism" was a primary concern for Pakistanis, Thousands of Pakistanis have been killed in just the last decade, and Afghanistan has experienced the same violence.
"It is this area that needs to have primary and focused attention by both governments," Karzai said. "It is with hope on this that I have come to Pakistan... to advance the course of action together... but also by having a common campaign against extremism, (to) make sure that the two countries are safer and prosperous towards a secure future."
For his part, Sharif said he hoped the transition from NATO to Afghan security control would be Afghan-owned and Afghan-led,” and reiterated his support for peace.
"I assured President Karzai that Pakistan will continue to extend all possible facilitation to the international community's efforts for the realisation of this noble goal," Sharif said.
Palestinian officials said they canceled Monday’s round of peace talks following a 4:30 a.m. “arrest raid,” according to the Associated Press, in which three Palestinian protesters were killed by Israeli soldiers dressed in plain clothes, and over a dozen were injured.
The raid, in the West Bank’s Qalandia refugee camp, ended in hundreds of the camp’s residents pouring onto the streets.
Shai Hakimi, a spokesman for the paramilitary police, told the AP that protester “hurled firebombs, concrete blocks and rocks at officers. Israeli military soldiers reportedly said that additional soldiers rushed to the scene and opened fire after they felt their lives were in “imminent danger.”
Palestinians said rather than moving ahead with the planned talk, they were protesting Monday morning’s early violence, and said they were also upset by an Israeli announcement on Sunday that it would be pushing forward with new settlement construction in east Jerusalem.
A Palestinian official told the AP that the talks have gotten off to “a rocky start, with the sides still arguing over the agenda.”
“The Palestinians want discussions to focus on security issues and the border between Israel and a future state of Palestine,” the AP reported. “The official said the Israelis have insisted on limiting talks only to security matters. He spoke on condition of anonymity because both sides have promised U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to keep the details of the negotiations secret.”
A U.S. official, also speaking on condition of anonymity in Washington, however, told the AP that “no meetings have been canceled,” and offered no elaboration.
Israeli officials also refused to comment.
There is still no information regarding when talks will resume, but Palestinian officials said they expect the break to be brief.
Kerry has a scheduled meeting with Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in Rome on September 8 to “help push negotiations forward.”