Today's headlines: The offhand remark that might have spared Syrians

John Kerry's suggestion that Syria turn over chemical weapons finds broad support

(Photo by REX/Flo Smith/NurPhoto)

If cruise missiles launched from American warships don’t rain down on Syrian targets, few would be all that surprised. The push for intervention of some kind, whether “unbelievably small” or in some measure larger, has taken hit after hit in a matter of days. British parliamentarians turned down Prime Minister David Cameron’s appeal for a military strike, and a U.S. Senate committee’s approval of action might be the only congressional support President Barack Obama could have expected.

So, a pullback from the brink isn’t particularly surprising. But what’s making waves this morning is how it all came about. John Kerry, the U.S. Secretary of State, decided to make some of the most important off-the-cuff remarks that might ever pass his lips. A reporter asked him if there were anything Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could do to avoid American strikes. Kerry answered, frankly.

“Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week—turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting … but he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done,” he said, rather skeptically.

Those remarks were reported as not serious, but Russia took the idea to Syria—who has since accepted the offer. China is also on board. To be fair, Kerry wasn’t exactly freelancing, since Obama says he and Putin discussed the proposal during a 20-minute chat when G20 leaders met in St. Petersburg, Russia last week. But had he not piped up, the Russians might have relented.

What this means for the Syrian people is, of course, an open question. Minutes ago, Maclean’s Michael Petrou predicted that, if the Kerry-inspired Russian proposal wins the day, neither Obama nor Assad will admit defeat. “Obama will say his threat of military strikes forced Assad to disarm. Assad will say he faced down American threats and declare victory,” he wrote.

Of course, that’s not the end of the story, as Petrou reminds us. “The civil war, with all its attendant abuses and horrors, will rage on.”

What’s above the fold this morning?

The Globe and Mail leads with the Quebec government’s plan to introduce secularism into the provincial charter of human rights and freedoms. The National Post fronts U.S. President Barack Obama’s public case for a strike on Syria and a Russian diplomatic maneuver that could avoid such military action. The Toronto Star goes above the fold with the potential for Syria to avoid strikes by turning over its stockpile of chemical weapons. The Ottawa Citizen leads with new allegations that former Conservative staffer Michael Sona admitted to colleagues that he participated in election-day robocalls in Guelph that directed voters to the wrong polls. iPolitics fronts Canada’s acceptance of only about 100 Syrian refugees who applied to relocate in the country. CBC.ca leads with troubles faced by unpaid interns in Canada. CTV News leads with the conviction of four men responsible for a gang rape on an India bus. National Newswatch showcases .

Stories that will be (mostly) missed

1. Gold. The Romanian parliament is set to vote on a controversial proposal by a Canadian mining company that would raze four mountains and create Europe’s largest gold mine. 2. Iranian assets. The federal government will release Iran’s non-diplomatic assets in Canada to victims of terrorism who are hoping to collect damages from terrorist groups based in Iran.
3. MS treatment. The Saskatchewan government’s $2.2-million contribution to clinical trials for a controversial multiple sclerosis treatment won’t go ahead, due to lack of participants. 4. Polar bear. A 40-year-old Manitoba man survived a run-in with an attacking polar bear in Churchill, Man., by flashing his cell phone, which distracted the bear long enough for him to escape.
5. India. Fighting between Hindu and Muslim groups has spread to several districts in the northern part of the country, where at least 31 people have died and police have arrested 200. 6. Norway. The country’s second female prime minister, Erna Solberg, won power in yesterday’s elections, which saw the Conservative Party give its best showing in 28 years.

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