John Kerry Plays Russian Roulette

Martial Trezzini/AP Photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • THE SWISS RISK: Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Geneva, Switzerland today to weigh a potential deal on Syria's chemical weapons, ABC's KIRIT RADIA reports. He'll hold two - maybe even three - days of talks with his Russian counterpart on exactly how they might rid Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of his formidable stockpile. U.S. officials insist this will be more than some high-level diplomatic meeting. Both sides are bringing a large team of experts and analysts who will hammer out exactly how the unspecified proposal would be carried out. It will be a deep dive, with intelligence officials from both sides comparing notes about the size, scope and location of Assad's chemical weapons depots. They'll talk about how this work can be carried out in a war zone, what to do with precursor chemicals and delivery systems like rockets, and perhaps, most importantly, how to monitor and verify the work that is being done. WATCH ABC's MARTHA RADDATZ's "Good Morning America" report on the prospects for a diplomatic solution:
  • 'DOABLE, BUT DIFFICULT': "It is doable, but difficult and complicated," one official told reporters on the way to Geneva. "We can test whether there is a credible and authentic way forward here, that the Russians mean what they say, as importantly, probably more importantly, that Assad means what he says," a senior State Department official told reporters. The official said one early sign they'll be looking for is whether Assad is declaring his entire chemical weapons stockpile. Verifying that claim will be a critical - and challenging - next step. The official outlined the goals for the meetings: "We will have an understanding with each other of what the scope of the problem is, what might be the best way to destroy these weapons, how we might monitor and verify what has occurred, and do it in a secure and safe manner."
  • PUTIN TAKES TO THE TIMES: Russian President Vladimir Putin wrote a New York Times Op-Ed "to speak directly to the American people," warning that a U.S. military strike on Syria would "unleash a new wave of terrorism," ABC's ANTHONY CASTELLANO notes. In the Op-Ed titled, "A Plea for Caution From Russia," Putin said there's no doubt poison gas was used in Syria, but it could have been used by opposition forces to provoke intervention from other countries. Putin slammed the United States for getting involved in the Syrian civil war, which he described as an internal conflict. "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," he 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.'"
  • WHITE HOUSE WEIGHS IN: A senior Obama administration official responded to Putin's New York Times Op-Ed: "President Putin has invested his credibility in transferring Assad's chemical weapons to international control, and ultimately destroying them. The world will note whether Russia can follow through on that commitment."

THE SYRIA SCOREBOARD by the ABC News Political Unit:


24 7 17 0
39 29 9 1
UNDECIDED 37 10 26 1
UNKNOWN 0 0 0 0
37 10 26 1
TOTAL 100 46 52 2


44 10 34
262 197 65
UNDECIDED 116 21 95
UNKNOWN 11 5 6
127 26 101
TOTAL 433 233 200


ABC's RICK KLEIN: A funny thing happened when President Obama hit the "pause" button on Syria action: Lawmakers continued to make their position known - and they're still moving in only one direction. Opposition to strikes against Syria has only grown in Congress since the president made his case to the nation - a case, of course, that includes the military option if the diplomatic option fails. That's playing out now, but just in case the newest New York Times op-ed contributor doesn't come through for the United States government, the president is going to be back where he started at some point on Capitol Hill. Actually, he'll be in a worse position than before, with the White House able to keep fewer lawmakers on the fence. That's one measure of the depth of public sentiment on Syria: Members of Congress are taking stands even though the president is explicitly asking them not to.

ABC's DEVIN DWYER: The relationship between President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken a dramatic and surprising turn, thanks in part of alignment of interests in Syria and political pressures at home. Just one month ago, the duo had grown so publicly frosty toward each other that ties were at a breaking point. Now, both men are signaling that business-like interactions may be back. In his address to the nation on Tuesday, Obama credited "constructive talks" with Putin as helping to create a possible diplomatic breakthrough on Assad's chemical weapons and promised to "continue my own discussions" in the days ahead. For his part, Putin today describes the relationship as "marked by growing trust" in an op-ed in the New York Times. "I appreciate this," he wrote. All of this comes after a turbulent month in which Obama called off a planned one-on-one summit in Moscow that Putin had long sought, citing "lack of progress" on virtually ever major issue between the two world powers. At a press conference on Aug. 9, Obama even described his Russian counterpart's body language as "kind of slouch, looking like a bored kid," though he did say the two didn't have a "bad personal relationship." At the G20 summit in St. Petersburg last week, Putin broke the ice after a days of avoidance and awkward interactions, confronting Obama with small talk on the sidelines of a plenary session. The two huddled in a corner for 20 minutes to talk business, apparently laying the groundwork for this latest diplomatic dance on Syria.

ABC's JEFF ZELENY: The tangle over Syria has dominated discussion this week, but an even bigger Capitol Hill fight is brewing: A budget battle with no diplomatic escape hatch. A government shutdown is looming Oct. 1. House Republican leaders had hoped to pass a plan today to keep federal agencies open until Dec. 15, but the early stages of that effort fizzled on Wednesday. Deep divisions across Republican ranks over this - and a separate plan to raise the nation's debt limit - will define the fall debate in Washington. At the heart of this fight is the push to delay President Obama's health care law by a year. The White House and Democrats insist they won't entertain that idea, so this showdown is hurtling toward an uncertain conclusion. For Republicans, the dispute revolves around a simple question: Would a government shutdown be good - or devastating - for the party. There is deep disagreement, which signals an epic fight ahead.

ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ: As the U.S. grapples with an ever evolving situation regarding Syria, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., laid out his foreign policy principles in a speech Wednesday: 1) focus on protecting U.S. national security 2) speak with moral clarity 3) always fight to win. But what was billed as a major foreign policy speech may have been overshadowed by his decision to invoke a controversial legislative figure. "We need 100 more like Jesse Helms," Cruz said at the conservative Heritage Foundation during a lecture series bearing Helms' name. Cruz and Helms may share similar views on international issues, but Helms is often remembered for his opposition to civil rights and trying to keep the Senate from making Martin Luther King Jr. Day a federal holiday.


THE VIEW FROM THE WHITE HOUSE: 'WE WANT THE PRESSURE ON MOSCOW': As Secretary Kerry arrives in Geneva for two days of intensive talks on Syria, the White House is making it clear they want the burden to fall entirely on Russia to devise a viable plan for Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons - and for Russia to take the hit if the plan or negotiations fail, ABC's DEVIN DWYER notes. "Russia is now putting its prestige on the line when it comes to moving further along this diplomatic avenue," press secretary Jay Carney said on Wednesday. "Russia is Assad's and Syria's closest ally. Russia has played the role of blocking international efforts, thus far, to hold Assad accountable." Put another way by a senior administration official on Tuesday, "We want the pressure on Moscow to show what [the plan] is and own it." So far, a formal plan does not exist on paper, officials said. Putting one in ink is one of the goals of the U.S.-Russia summit of the next two days. The talks may also touch on whether Assad's stockpiles of biological weapons should also be included in any disarmament deal, officials said. Bottom line: there is abundant skepticism at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave that a verifiable plan to neutralize Syria's stockpiles can be reached, but there's also no hurry to lay down a deadline to try to get something done. "We are entering this with our eyes wide open," Carney said. "You know, you don't negotiate these kinds of things with partners that have always been willing…or with interlocutors that have always been helpful; you wouldn't have to….We're not there yet, and that's going to take some time." That additional time comes with a silver lining: an extended opportunity for the administration to shore up support in Congress for a vote on Syria strike authorization. If held today, such a vote would likely fail, dealing a blow to Obama's leadership and authority.

HAPPENING TODAY: President Obama holds a cabinet meeting at 11 a.m. Eastern.

A SKEPTICAL CONGRESS PROMISES TO KEEP AN EYE ON RUSSIA-SYRIA DIPLOMACY. The U.S. Congress is standing down on votes to authorize military force against Syria for now. But many members of Congress are skeptical that the potential diplomatic solution will succeed, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ and JOHN PARKINSON report. "What the Russians have proposed may turn out to be the best thing to come out of Russia since vodka," Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., told reporters after a classified briefing on Wednesday. "An imperfect implementation of the Russian proposal is far better than a perfect implementation of an airstrike campaign." Senate leaders and the White House came to an agreement "on a way forward" after the president's appeal to the nation and Congress Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. But Reid issued a warning to Syria and Russia that the U.S. Congress will keep a close eye on the progress of negotiations and will be willing to authorize the use of force if the diplomatic solution falters. "[We'll] see what we can to do to give the president the time and space our country needs to pursue these international negotiations," Reid said on the Senate floor on Wednesday. "America must be willing to be vigilant and ready to use force if necessary, and Congress should not take the threat of military force off the table. "Leaders in Damascus and Moscow should understand that Congress will be watching these negotiations very closely," Reid added. "If there is any indication these are not serious, that it's a ploy to delay, to obstruct, to divert, then I think we have to again give the president the authority to hold the Assad regime accountable."

ANALYSIS: COLORADO RECALL ELECTIONS CHILL PUSH FOR NEW GUN LAWS. This time was supposed to be different. After Newtown, Aurora and Tucson, gun-control advocates saw their best chance in a generation to tighten the nation's gun laws. That's how the argument went, at least, ABC's RICK KLEIN writes. But election results Tuesday in Colorado may serve as stark reminders of the continued power of the gun lobby. Two Democratic state senators lost their jobs because of new gun laws they helped pass, in races that played out as testing grounds for national messaging on both sides of the debate. In a state that's trending Democratic and has seen terrible gun violence firsthand, money flowed in on both sides over the seats of two obscure state lawmakers. The results directly undermine hopes that new gun restrictions can be political winners, and are likely to further sap what momentum was left for tighter federal gun laws at the congressional level. "Obviously, this is not going to be helpful," said Matt Bennett, a vice president at the centrist Democratic group Third Way, which has been working closely with the White House and key senators on federal gun-control efforts. "The NRA picked their spots carefully, and they went after them hard. There's always setbacks in the gun debate - always." The effort to recall Colorado Senate President John Morse and state Sen. Angela Giron was designed to send a message that would be heard far beyond the Rockies. Gun-rights groups originally sought to recall five Democrats from office - enough to flip the majority to Republicans - but would up getting enough signatures only to target the two who were recalled Tuesday.


A WHITE HOUSE IN CRISIS: FORMER CHIEFS OF STAFF GIVE AN INSIDER'S VIEW. With the Obama White House trying to achieve a diplomatic solution with Russia as an alternative to a military strike on Syria, most of us can only imagine what it must be like to be in the closed door meetings of the West Wing during a crisis - except for these guys. For this episode of "Top Line," ABC's RICK KLEIN and Yahoo! News' OLIVIER KNOX talked with three former White House chiefs of staff who gave us an insider's view of what the White House is dealing with in the Syria negotiations. Former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu, who served as the White House chief of staff to President George H. W. Bush, said the White House is likely in "angst" and "wishing they had done something right a long time ago" about Syria. "The biggest problem is [that] they know they waited a year and a half or two years too long," Sununu said during an interview at the premiere of a new Discovery documentary on White House chiefs of staff, "The Presidents' Gatekeepers." "So the White House is going through a lot of soul searching and really looking for some kind of a Hail Mary solution for a problem they let themselves get creeped into."


WHITE HOUSE: OBAMA 'NEVER CONSIDERED CANCELLING' SYRIA ADDRESS. President Obama took to television last night to plead his case on Syria to the nation. But the speech the president delivered last night was, by all accounts, far different than the one he originally intended to give, ABC's NICKI ROSSOLL notes. Instead of solely pressing his case for military action, President Obama asked Congress to postpone its vote on authorizing the use of force against Syria's Assad regime and asked for more time to pursue a diplomatic solution. ABC News' Chief White House Correspondent JONATHAN KARL asked Press Secretary Jay Carney at Wednesday afternoon's White House briefing if there was any "consideration whatsoever to cancelling" the speech. "I would be intimately involved in that consideration and it did not take place," Carney replied. "And the reason for that is that it is still very important for the president to speak to the American people about what he views to be necessary in response to this appalling attack by the Syrian regime against its own people … and to explain also the now potential diplomatic avenue that has been opened that could allow us to resolve this without resorting to military force."


-NEW ANTI-TRUST HIRES AT GEORGE MASON. George Mason University School of Law has hired a couple of the top names in the anti-trust field as full-time faculty - the Honorable Doug Ginsburg and Damien Geradin. "Ginsburg was formerly a member of the New York University law faculty and professor of law at Harvard University and continues to serve as senior circuit judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He is a leading authority on competition law and policy, administrative law, and law and economics. … Geradin was previously a member of the University of Michigan law faculty and has broad experience in EU competition law, intellectual property, and the regulation of network industries."


@politicalwire: Sen. Robert Menendez on Vladimir Putin's op-ed this morning: "I almost wanted to vomit." …

@ByronYork: Leading House GOP lawmaker: 'I believe the White House wakes up every morning thinking how they can punch us in the nose…'

@RosieGray: Ketchum has been working for Russia for years but the Putin op-ed might be its biggest coup ever: …

@mkraju: Senate Rs admit they have fundraising problem, and critics blame leadership vacuum at NRSC. w/ @apalmerdc. …

@HuffPostPol: . @AlisonForKY blogs: Kentuckians have had enough #KYsen