U.N.: 11,000 refugees pour out of Syria in 24 hours


Eleven thousand refugees have poured out of Syria in just 24 hours, a staggering number as violence surges near the border, the United Nations refugee agency said Friday.

The Friday deluge is more than triple the usual numbers of 2,000 to 3,000 people escaping daily, agency spokeswoman Sybella Wilkes said. Nine thousand Syrians fled to Turkey alone, most of them reaching the border overnight. The numbers were nearly enough to fill a typical refugee camp.

The rest of the day's refugees went to Jordan and Lebanon.

Vast, sudden waves of refugees usually mean the violence raging in Syria has veered especially close to one of its borders, Wilkes said. Scores of refugees showed up wounded over the last 24 hours; two have died.

“The numbers are increasing by the hour,” Wilkes said. “The Turkish government says it can take weeks or even months to build a camp. But it can take only hours to fill them.”

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Cuban missile crisis myth constrains today's diplomatic standoffs

Kennedys and Khrushchevs
This post has been corrected.

Fifty years after the superpowers were poised to annihilate each other over nuclear missiles sent to Cuba, the myth prevails that President Kennedy forced Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to back down by threatening to unleash nuclear war.

It took three decades after October 1962, when the world hovered on the brink of a cataclysm, before  documents were declassified that disclosed the back-channel diplomacy and compromise that led to peaceful resolution of the Cuban missile crisis. But even today, hard-liners cling to the narrative that taking a tough, inflexible stance with adversaries is the path to diplomatic triumph.

GlobalFocusThat misguided interpretation hampers diplomacy today, say veterans of the perilous Cold War standoff and the historians who study it. The notion that threatening military action can force an opponent's surrender has created dangerously unrealistic expectations, they say, in high-stakes conflicts like the U.S.-led challenge of Iran's purported quest to build nuclear weapons.

Kennedy didn't stare down Khrushchev with vows to bomb Cuban missile sites, although that was the tactic pushed by his military advisors, recently revealed history of the crisis shows. The president sent his brother, then-Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy, to secretly negotiate with Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin. In the strictest of confidence, RFK offered withdrawal of U.S. missiles from Turkey and a promise not to invade vulnerable Cuba in exchange for the Kremlin pulling out the nuclear arms it had deployed to Fidel Castro's island.

"The secrecy that accompanied the resolution of the most dangerous crisis in foreign policy history has distorted the whole process of conflict resolution and diplomacy," said Peter Kornbluh, Cuba analyst for the National Security Archive at George Washington University. "The takeaway from the crisis was that might makes right and that you can force your opponents to back down with a strong, forceful stance."

Documents released sporadically over the last 20 years show that the crisis was resolved through compromise, not coercion, said Kornbluh, who has spent decades pushing for declassification of U.S.-Cuba history documents related to the crisis. Some 2,700 pages from RFK's private papers were released by the National Archives and Kennedy Library just last week.

R. Nicholas Burns, a 27-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service now teaching diplomacy at Harvard's Kennedy School, sees applications for the Iran dispute from the real story of the missile crisis resolution.

The fundamental breakthrough in the confrontation occurred "because Kennedy finally decided, against the wishes of most of his advisors, that rather than risk nuclear war he was going to make a compromise with Khrushchev," Burns said. He pointed to the confidential offer to remove U.S. Jupiter missiles from Europe, a turning point still "not well understood -- people think Khrushchev backed down."

In the real world, Burns said, "it is exceedingly rare that we get everything we want in an international discussion. To get something of value, you have to give up something."

Burns sees the outlines of a negotiated agreement with Iran that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear weapon, a plan he believes would be acceptable to Democrats and Republicans once the presidential election is over and the campaign rhetoric that rejects compromise dies down. In exchange for Iran's submitting its nuclear facilities to regular international inspections, Burns said, U.S. and other Western leaders could recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium to the levels needed in civilian arenas, such as energy production and medicine.

Lessons learned in the U.S.-led wars against insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan also argue for exhausting every diplomatic option before engaging in armed conflict, Burns said.

"Sometimes it's necessary to use military force -- I'm not a pacifist," said the retired diplomat, who was an undersecretary of State for political affairs under President George W. Bush. "But more often than not, you have to put your faith in diplomacy. We have the time and space to negotiate with Iran."

Differentiating between national interests and those of allies is an even more important lesson gleaned from the missile crisis, said Robert Pastor, an American University professor of international relations and former National Security Council official in the Carter administration.

"Fidel Castro actually urged Khrushchev to attack the United States because he felt American imperialism would try to destroy both Cuba and the socialist world," said Pastor, who credits Khrushchev with wisely rejecting Castro's adventurism in favor of peace. Pastor sees a similar danger of Israel provoking war with Iran, confronting Washington with the need to decide between trying to restrain Israel or fighting a new Middle East war.

Sergei N. Khrushchev, the late premier's son who is now a U.S. citizen and international affairs analyst at Brown University, has been campaigning for a correction of the Cuban missile history at anniversary events this week.

"Khrushchev didn’t like Kennedy any more than President Obama likes [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad," he said in an interview. "But he realized you have to speak to them anyway if you want to resolve problems. We say we will never negotiate with our enemies, only with our friends. But that's not negotiating, that's having a party."

For the record, 8:35 a.m. Oct. 17: This post originally said the RFK papers made public this week were posted on the nongovernmental National Security Archive website. They were released by the National Archives and Kennedy Library.


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Photo: Caroline Kennedy, daughter of late President John F. Kennedy, shows her mother's original copy of the 1963 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty to Sergei Khrushchev, son of late Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, next to a photograph of their fathers at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston at a commemoration Sunday of the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis. Credit: Michael Dwyer / Associated Press


Turks search aid flight, let plane fly on to Syria

BEIRUT -- A plane headed from Armenia to Syria that was grounded and searched Monday in Turkey was carrying only humanitarian aid, the Turkish foreign minister said.

After the plane's cargo was examined it was allowed to continue to the besieged city of Aleppo, the official Anadolu news agency reported.

It was the second time in a week that Turkey ordered a plane to land in an attempt to prevent weapons from being sent to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Armenia requested to use Turkish airspace and was granted permission on the condition that its cargo be searched.

Last Wednesday, a passenger plane heading from Moscow to Damascus was forced to land amid suspicion that it was carrying weapons. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the plane was carrying ammunition, and other reports said it contained military communications equipment.

On Saturday, Turkey announced that it was closing its airspace to Syrian civilian flights. Earlier, it had barred Syrian military flights from flying over Turkey.


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Turkey grounds another plane heading to Syria amid tensions

--Times staff

Photo: An Armenian plane is seen after it was forced to land Monday at Erzurum Airport in eastern Turkey. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency / Zehra Melek Cat / Anadolu Agency.

Turkey grounds another plane heading to Syria amid tensions

A plane headed from Armenia to Syria was grounded at an airport in Turkey, less than a week after the country intercepted another Syria-bound plane
BEIRUT -- A plane headed from Armenia to Syria was grounded Monday at an airport in Turkey, less than a week after the country intercepted another Syria-bound plane.

The plane, described as being on a civilian humanitarian aid mission, was grounded in the eastern province of Erzurum in order for its cargo to be examined, according to Turkey's official Anadolu news agency.

It was headed to the besieged city of Aleppo, which has been the site of clashes between rebels and government forces since July and a regular target of government helicopters and fighter jets, leaving many parts of the city destroyed.

Turkish authorities will examine part of the plane's cargo and if it does not violate civilian aviation rules, the aircraft will be allowed to continue to Aleppo, the news agency reported.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Turkey granted the plane permission to fly through its airspace only on condition it could search its cargo for possible military equipment, the Associated Press reported.

On Wednesday, a passenger plane heading from Moscow to Damascus was forced to land amid suspicion that it was carrying weapons for the regime of President Bashar Assad. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the plane was carrying Russian munitions.

On Saturday, Turkey announced that it was closing its airspace to Syrian civilian flights. Earlier, it had barred Syrian military flights from flying over Turkey.

As tensions between Turkey and Syria continued to escalate, U.N. envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi was in Iran to meet with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regarding the ongoing Syrian conflict.

Brahimi appealed for Iran's help in achieving a ceasefire between Assad's loyalist forces and rebel fighters for the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha, which will fall around Oct. 25. It is an appeal unlikely to succeed as previous calls for a ceasefire have been ignored by the Syrian government. 

"If Syria disintegrates, the sectarian and tribal wars will spread in Syria and spill over to the region and to neighboring countries," Brahimi said, according to the official Iranian Students' News Agency. "So it is necessary to come to an understanding and finish this dire situation in Syria."


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-- Times staff in Beirut and Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran

Photo: The Armenian plane bound for Syria waits on the tarmac at Erzurum Airport as its cargo is searched. Credit: Associated Press

U.S., allies girding for worst-case scenario with Syria's WMD

Chemical weapons response training site in Jordan
During a week that witnessed deadly artillery exchanges between Syria and Turkey and a tense showdown over a plane purportedly ferrying munitions from Russia, the arrival of 150 U.S. troops in Jordan was likely to be viewed as token support for an ally coping with a refugee influx from Syria's civil war.

GlobalFocusThe deployment, though, may be a response to mounting concerns at the Pentagon and among European and Middle East allies that Syria's stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of hostile forces if the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is eventually toppled.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta disclosed little about the special-forces mission to Jordan when he confirmed it at a meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels on Wednesday. But he noted that the United States has been working closely with Jordan to keep track of Syria's weapons of mass destruction as the 19-month-old rebellion grinds on.

Unlike a decade ago, when bad intelligence on Iraq's alleged chemical and biological weapons spurred a clamor for U.S. military intervention, defense strategists appear to be approaching the suspected stockpiles of mustard and nerve gases in Syria with more collaboration and caution.

The resistance to preemptive action isn't just a consequence of lessons learned in Iraq. Syria is believed to have one of the world's largest chemical weapons arsenals, with commercial satellite surveillance and intelligence reports suggesting as many as 50 production and storage sites as well as missiles that could carry the deadly agents beyond its borders. Jane's Intelligence Review reported in 2009 that Damascus had embarked on a major upgrade of its chemical weapons facilities, transforming its Safir site near Aleppo, now the scene of intense fighting, into a credible deterrent to any threat from nuclear-armed Israel.

The scope of the Syrian chemical weapons program and the international community's failure to craft a cohesive plan to stop the fighting confront Western military strategists with the need to plan for a worst-case scenario rather than act to prevent it, analysts say. That means preparing allies in the region to launch a massive rapid-deployment operation after the Assad regime collapsed but before Al Qaeda-aligned fighters or rogue elements of the Syrian rebels could get their hands on the WMD.

Military exercises in JordanThe U.S. special forces sent to Amman are probably training Jordanian troops in containment techniques and checking their equipment and chemical-biological hazard protection and practices, said Steven Bucci, a former Army Green Beret officer and senior Pentagon official who is now a research fellow in defense and domestic  security at the Heritage Foundation.

"They will probably be running them through training procedures for dealing with this stuff to secure it and get it under control or to respond to it if it gets used" in a calamitous last battle, said Bucci. "This is about the best use of our military we could have now, and hopefully we're also helping out the Turks."

Bucci testified to Congress in July that even a limited operation to secure Syria's chemical weapons would require more than 75,000 troops -- and many more if launched amid the civil war now raging.

It is "not a viable option" to commit masses of U.S. ground troops to such an operation, Bucci told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade. Any effective force, he said, would have to involve troops from allied Muslim countries also at risk of attack with Syria's chemical weapons.

That's why, he said in an interview Thursday, it is essential for the United States to coordinate with Syria's neighbors now to prepare a post-Assad operation that can prevent terrorist groups or smugglers from making off with the WMD.

Raymond Zilinskas, director of the chemical and biological weapons program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Monterey, points out that assessments of Syria's chemical weapons program are largely unverified. But he, too, says the United States and its allies should be girding for the worst.

"From what I understand, these depots are pretty well guarded by the Syrian regime's forces, and they would probably be the last to give up their guarding duties," Zilinskas said. "But if there is a total collapse, there would of course be a threat of jihadists getting these weapons."

Talk of airstrikes to remove the threat is nonsensical, Zilinskas said. Syria has formidable antiaircraft defenses built with Russian assistance, and the international community lacks crucial information on the precise locations, quantities and containment of the gases to be able to bomb them without risking spreading the deadly substances.

"Sarin is pretty volatile. If all these other problems could be resolved, the sarin would probably be destroyed or would be so volatile that it would disappear quickly," Zilinskas said. "But that's not necessarily the case with mustard gas. It's much less deadly but much more persistent. And if the Syrians turn out to have VX, which is a persistent nerve gas, that could cause real problems. That is the worst-case scenario they have to prepare for."


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Photo, top: A military training facility in Russeifeh, Jordan, where U.S. forces and a handful of British allies began training Jordanian commandos this week to respond in case of an attack with chemical weapons from neighboring Syria. Credit: Mohammad Hannon / Associated Press

Insert: A scene from U.S.-Jordanian military exercises in the Qatrana desert in June. Credit: Jamal Nasrallah /AFP/Getty Images

Turkish leader says flight to Syria carried ammunition

Turkish leader says flight to Syria carried ammunitionBEIRUT -- A Syrian plane intercepted and forced to land in Turkey was carrying Russian ammunition as well as previously reported military communications equipment, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters Thursday.

The passenger plane, which was coming from Moscow, was held on the ground for several hours Wednesday as Turkish authorities searched the plane and seized 10 boxes before allowing the flight to continue to Damascus, the Syrian capital. Its cargo apparently was destined for Syria as well.

Erdogan said Turkey was still examining the equipment, the Associated Press reported.

Syria has denied the plane, a Syrian Air Airbus A320, was carrying any weapons or prohibited goods.

Turkey said it had intercepted the plane based on national and international rules and regulations.

"The cargo was not suitable for a civil plane under international rules and regulations,” said Transportation Minister Binali Yildirim, the official Anadolu news agency reported. "An air space must be utilized for peaceful purposes. Otherwise, we will use our rights stemming from national and international laws. We used the rights on Wednesday and will use them in the future whenever necessary.”

The incident comes amid increasing tension between the two countries as Turkey has traded mortar fire with Syria in recent days, a week after a Syrian shell killed five people across the border. Turkey’s top military commander warned Wednesday that his country would respond forcefully to any further shelling of its territory.


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Turkish media: Syria-bound jet had military communications gear

--Times staff writer

Photo: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, on Thursday. Credit: Associated Press

Turkish media: Syria-bound jet had military communications gear


BEIRUT -- Turkish state media reported Thursday that a Syrian passenger plane intercepted and forced to land in Turkey was carrying military communications equipment.

The plane, en route from Moscow to Damascus, Syria, on Wednesday night, was searched for five hours at the airport in the Turkish capital of Ankara and officials found 10 sealed boxes addressed to the Syrian Defense Ministry, Turkish television TRT reported. After confiscating the boxes, the plane and its 37 passengers and crew were allowed to continue on to Damascus.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry said the plane’s cargo did not include any weapons or prohibited goods, Syrian state media reported. It added that all of the cargo had been registered on the flight manifest.

PHOTOS: Living under siege: Life in Aleppo, Syria

Syrian Arab Airlines director Ghaida Abdullatif told Syrian state media that Turkish authorities assaulted the plane’s crew members when they refused to sign a document saying that the plane made an emergency landing.

The incident comes amid increasing tension between the two countries as Turkey has traded mortar and artillery fire with Syria in recent days, a week after a Syrian shell killed five people across the border. Turkey’s top military commander warned Wednesday that his country would respond forcefully to any further shelling of its territory.

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Turkey forces plane bound for Syria from Moscow to land


Turkish F-16 fighter jets intercepted a passenger plane heading from Moscow to Syria and forced it to land at an Ankara airport Wednesday, Turkish state television reported.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the official Anadolu news agency that the Syrian plane had been forced to land at Esenboga airport after reports that it was carrying cargo "not suitable according to rules of civil aviation." Davutoglu said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had been briefed about the Syrian plane.

Moscow is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad's government, and Turkish news reports said that the plane was suspected to be carrying weapons. Reached by telephone Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry said it had no additional information to immediately share about the incident.

PHOTOS: Living under siege: Life in Aleppo, Syria

The state news agency reported that  Turkish authorities were searching the cargo area of the plane late Wednesday as television aired images of a airplane on the darkened runway.

Bilal Eksi, director general of the Turkish Civil Aviation Department, told Anadolu that the Syrian plane had 37 people on board, including crew members.

Turkey has traded fire with neighboring Syria in recent days, infuriated by attacks on Turkish soil that killed villagers in border towns. Its top military commander warned earlier Wednesday that Turkey would respond forcefully to any further shelling of its territory.


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Photo: A Syrian passenger plane sits at an Ankara airport on Wednesday. Credit: Cem Oksuz / Anadolu

Turkey fires back at Syria on sixth day of trading fire


Turkey fired artillery back at Syria on Monday after a mortar round landed on its territory, the sixth straight day that the two countries have traded fire across borders, the Turkish state news agency reported.

The strikes began last week after five people were killed in an attack on a Turkish border town. Officials in Turkey said the bombardment was a Syrian military shelling and that all the victims were women and children. The Turks have retaliated in the days since as attacks on their territory have continued.

The Monday shelling of the countryside south of Hacipasa hamlet reportedly caused no casualties. Turkish forces nonetheless fired back immediately, state media reported. President Abdullah Gul said Monday that “the worst case scenario” was unfolding in Syria, urging the international community to act.

Last week, the Turkish parliament authorized the government to send troops outside the country's borders, but officials have played down the move as a deterrent, not a step toward war. The string of strikes have nonetheless ramped up fears that the Syrian conflict could spread into a broader war in the tumultuous region, with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon calling the situation “extremely dangerous” on Monday.

“We are not interested in war whatsoever, but then again we are also not far from war,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sunday.

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Must Reads: Colombian rebels, a salamander and evangelical TV


From evangelical broadcasters in Israel to a salamander seen as a metaphor for the Mexican soul, here are five stories you shouldn't miss from this last week in global news:

Daystar, TBN ready for Messiah in Jerusalem

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In Mexico, the ajolote's fate lies in troubled waters

In India, trained priests from lower caste still awaiting jobs

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Trinity Broadcasting Network co-founder Paul Crouch, center, his son, Matt Crouch, right, and Singapore evangelist Joseph Prince tape a prayer broadcast on the terrace of TBN's new Jerusalem studio. Credit: Edmund Sanders / Los Angeles Times


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