Geneva talks on Syria's future have been tense—and new US support for rebels isn't helping. On Monday, Reuters reported secret Congressional approval of funding to lightly arm "moderate" Syrian rebels through September. An opposition adviser reported an "outburst" by the Syrian government's lead negotiator, Bashar al-Jaafari, after which the UN's leading mediator called off the day's discussion, the New York Times reports. Talks resumed today, the BBC reports. Syrian officials say the US is backing terrorists—which the US calls "ludicrous"—and that its support for the rebels conflicts with its diplomatic efforts in Switzerland.
The Times reports yesterday's afternoon session was axed to give the government time to come up with a transitional blueprint of its own. The BBC adds government reps did share a "declaration of basic principles," but absent from it was any statement on a political transition. And negotiators haven't even been able to achieve the basic goal of suspending fighting in Homs to bring in humanitarian aid. If talks don't move forward soon, the Times notes, Western officials may seek help from the UN Security Council, hoping that an image-conscious Russia won't exercise its veto ahead of the Olympics. Meanwhile, in Syria itself:
- Various rebel groups—including al-Qaeda-linked extremists—have gotten hold of the lion's share of oil and gas supplies, US officials tell the Times. Extremist groups are actually selling the resources to the government, with some getting electricity or a break from airstrikes as payment, opposition activists say. They're using the resulting cash to support clashes not just with Bashar al-Assad's forces, but with each other.
- Syria is poised to miss a chemical weapons deadline next week, insiders tell Reuters. By then, the country is supposed to have sent all such weapons abroad to be destroyed. But so far, just 4.1% of some 1,300 metric tons of chemical agents have been sent to the relevant port in Latakia, the sources say.