September 2013 Current Events: World News
Here are the key events in world news for the month of September 2013.
President Obama Seeks Approval for Military Action Against Syria (Sept. 1): President Obama surprises many when he announces that he will seek Congressional approval for military action against Syria. The military action will be in response to the chemical attack that killed 1,429 people last month. In a televised address, Obama calls Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons "an assault on human dignity." He also says, in the address, that a failure to respond "could lead to escalating use of chemical weapons or their proliferation to terrorist groups who would do our people harm. In a world with many dangers, this menace must be confronted." (Sept. 4): The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee votes, 10 to 7, to authorize military action in Syria. In the following days, Obama attempts to rally support for the strike, but both the public and Congress expresses increases reluctance for military action. (Sept. 9): A diplomatic solution is back on the table after U.S. secretary of state John Kerry suggests half-heartedly that a strike can be averted if Assad agrees to hand over all chemical weapons. Russia takes the proposal seriously. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov says, "If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in the country will prevent attacks, then we will immediately begin work with Damascus. And we call on the Syrian leadership to not only agree to setting the chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also to their subsequent destruction." (Sept. 12): Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem also embraces the option. "We are ready to reveal the locations of the chemical weapon sites and to stop producing chemical weapons and make these sites available for inspection by representatives of Russia, other countries and the United Nations," he says in a statement on Sept. 12. It is the first time the Syrian government acknowledges it has chemical weapons. Given the uncertainty of Congressional authorization, diplomacy will spare Obama a potential rebuke that can undercut his authority for the remainder of his presidency. (Sept. 15): Russia and the U.S. reach an agreement that Syria must provide an inventory of its chemicals weapons and production facilities within a week and either turn over or destroy all of its chemical weapons by mid-2014. If the government fails to comply, then the UN Security Council will take up the issue. The timetable is extremely aggressive; such disarmament typically takes years, not months. While the agreement delays a Congressional vote on a military strike, the U.S. keeps that possibility on the table. "If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act," Obama says.
Kenya's Deputy President Denies Charges of Crimes Against Humanity (Sept. 11): Kenya's Deputy President William Ruto pleads not guilty to charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in early September 2013. The charges stem from the violence that followed the 2007 election. President Kenyatta is scheduled to appear before the court in November. Days before Ruto appears at the ICC, parliament votes to withdraw from the court.
United Nations Confirms Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria (Sept. 16): The UN confirms in a report that the chemical agent sarin was used near Damascus on Aug. 21. "Chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale," the report says. "The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used." The report does not indicate who was responsible for launching the attack. (Sept. 18): Russia denounces the UN's report, calling it incomplete. In a statement broadcast on Russian television, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov says, "We think that the report was distorted. It was one-sided. The basis of information upon which it is built is insufficient." (Sept. 26): The five permanent members of the Security Council agree on a resolution that requires Syria to hand over its stockpile of chemical weapons. If Syria fails to comply, then the Security Council will reconvene to determine repercussions, which could include military action or sanctions. Meanwhile, the fragile coalition of opposition groups further splinter, when 11 rebel groups announce that they will no longer recognize the Syrian National Coalition, the dissident leadership that is based in Turkey. Instead, the groups say they will work together to establish sharia, or Islamic law, in Syria. The move signals the rising power of groups affiliated with al-Qaeda.
Somalian Militants Terrorize Luxury Mall (Sept. 21): Shabab militants attack an upscale mall in Nairobi, killing nearly 70 people and wounding about 175. The siege continues with persistent fighting between government troops and militants. The attack is meticulously planned, and the militants prove to be challenging for the government to dislodge from the Westgate mall. Shabab, based in Somalia, says the attack is in retaliation for the Kenyan military's role in helping Somalia battle the militant group. In the wake of the violence, the ICC suspends the trial of Deputy President William Ruto so he can return to Kenya and assist in managing the crisis.
Bo Xilai Is Sentenced to Life in Prison (Sept. 22): Chinese politician Bo Xilai is sentenced to life in prison. Eastern China's Jinan Intermediate People's Court finds him guilty of embezzlement, accepting bribes, and abuses of power, including a failed attempt to stifle the murder allegations against his wife. During the trial, Bo pleads not guilty, contesting every allegation. After the verdict, Bo's associates say that he will likely appeal his sentence. Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, is currently serving a suspended death sentence, the equivalent of life in prison, for the murder of British businessman Neil Heywood.
Historic Christian Church Destroyed by Taliban (Sept. 23): Two suicide bombers linked to the Taliban attack the All Saints Church in Peshawar, killing more than 80 people and destroying the historic church. It is the deadliest attack against Christians in Pakistan's history. Shiites, also a religious minority in Pakistan, have also been targeted by the Taliban in the past year. The attack prompts many to question if the government should move ahead with plans to begin negotiations with the Taliban.
Iranian President Takes Steps to Thaw Relations with the West (Sept. 20): In an opinion article in the Washington Post, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani signals his willingness to engage the international community to forge mutually beneficial relationships. Such diplomacy, he says, means "engaging with one's counterparts, on the basis of equal footing and mutual respect, to address shared concerns and achieve shared objectives." He offers to mediate between the Syrian government and the opposition and reiterates that the country intends to pursue nuclear power for peaceful purposes. "Mastering the atomic fuel cycle and generating nuclear power is as much about diversifying our energy resources as it is about who Iranians are as a nation, our demand for dignity and respect and our consequent place in the world." (Sept. 26): Rowhani's charm offensive continues on his trip to the U.S., where he addresses the UN General Assembly. His speech notably lacks the anti-Israel bluster of his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and he is careful to refrain from making statements that will raise eyebrows at home or expectations by the West. He repeats his earlier claim that Iran will never seek nuclear weapons but will continue to pursue uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes. He also suggests that the U.S. and Iran can come to agreement on Iran's nuclear program within six months. In another remarkable turn, Rowhani calls the Holocaust "reprehensible." The statement further illustrates how Rowhani is steering a markedly different course from Ahmadinejad, who denied the Holocaust on several occasions. Many observers are disappointed that President Obama and Rowhani didn't shake hands at the UN. Still, expectations for future talks and progress on the intractable nuclear issue remain high. (Sept. 27): Obama speaks with Rowhani in a historic phone call. It is the first time the leaders of the United States and Iran have talked in 34 years. The phone call lasts 15 minutes. During the call, the two discuss an ongoing effort to reach an agreement over Iran's nuclear program.