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Syria civil war: 5 things to pay attention to today

By Lateef Mungin, CNN
September 13, 2013 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Talks between the United States and Russia continue
  • Russia's Putin New York Times op-ed piece gets backlash
  • Close to 100 die in fighting in Syria Thursday, opposition says

(CNN) -- Today could be a crucial day in the push to rid Syria of chemical weapons.

It's day two of meetings between Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, Switzerland. A plan could be created Friday, but then again ...

The United Nations is also poised to get involved.

Although Syria's bloody civil war is over two years old, power players from many nations seemed focused on making changes.

Here are the five things to pay attention to today.

1. Nailing down a plan

Lavrov and Kerry take 2. The most talked about chat in the world goes into its second day Friday with many hoping that the two can nail down a blueprint to destroy Syria's chemical weapons.

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Who is Putin speaking to in that op-ed?

If Thursday's meeting in Geneva is any indication, there is going to be a lot of back and forth. The sparring began in the opening statements.

Lavrov spoke first. Kerry followed with longer and more forceful remarks.

When he finished, Lavrov asked to respond and said he hadn't come "prepared with the extended political statement," adding that "diplomacy likes silence."

Kerry then asked the translator to repeat Lavrov's final comment, but when that didn't happen, Lavrov tried to assure Kerry there was no problem.

"You want me to take your word for it? It's a little early for that," Kerry said, smiling, as the two men shook hands for the cameras.

Ouch.

Though this exchange was playful, former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen says Kerry will have his hands full with Lavrov. Cohen said Lavrov is "very, very skilled," "bright," "articulate" and "a very tough negotiator."

The talks could extend into Saturday, officials have said. If any deal is reached, it would have to be taken to the United Nations for consideration.

2. More Putin backlash

Russian President Vladimir Putin may not be America's favorite writer, right now. Putin's opinion piece published Wednesday in the New York Times ruffled some feathers and had at least one U.S. lawmaker looking for a barf bag. The Russian leader's argument against military intervention in Syria brought some response. But his slap at American exceptionalism brought a flurry of U.S. reaction Thursday.

Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez says the piece made him almost want to throw up, and House Speaker John Boehner says he's "insulted."

Even though the the White House shrugged off the fuss calling it "irrelevant," don't be surprised if there are more reactions Friday.

3. More fighting and sadly more deaths

Though the camera seems focused on political spats, and negotiations about Syria, in the country a fierce fight continues.

The opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria reported that fighting killed at least 94 people across Syria on Thursday, including 24 in Daraa province. This figure includes 27 deaths in Daraa province and another 26 in Aleppo province.

The same group documented shelling that struck nearly 500 locales, along with almost 50 military jet attacks.

The fight continues Friday.

4. So where are these chemical weapons?

And while world powers haggle about what to do with Syria's chemical weapons, a rebel leader is claiming the government's cache of mass destruction is on the move.

Gen. Salim Idriss, head of the opposition Free Syrian Army, says Syria's government is shifting its chemical weapons out of the country.

Where?

Iraq and Lebanon, Idriss says.

CNN could not verify that claim. And Iraq quickly said: no way.

"We were the victims of chemical weapons under Saddam (Hussein's) regime, and we will never allow to let any country to transfer chemical materials to our lands at all," said an adviser to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

5. The UN gets closer to weighing in

A greatly anticipated U.N. report on Syria's alleged chemical attack could be coming soon. This development could speed up an international response to Syria

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday that the United Nations report on the August attack in Syria will "probably" be published on Monday, and that there will "certainly be indications" pointing to the origin of the attack.

France and other U.S. allies have said they want any coordinated response on Syria to be controlled by the U.N.

The report is being created by inspectors who traveled to the site of the chemical weapons attack in the suburban Damascus that the United States estimates killed more than 1,400 people. It could be a first step toward generating support for a Security Council resolution.

The world is waiting.

CNN's Barbara Starr, Steve Brusk, Jamie Crawford, Jake Tapper, Elise Labott, Barbara Starr, John King, Jake Tapper and Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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