Amid talk of a Syrian agreement with Russia to hand over its chemical weapons, Secretary of State John Kerry says the U.S. still must prepare to take action.
“It is no exaggeration at all to say… that the world is watching,” Kerry said. “It’s important to show the world that, hopefully, we can speak with one voice.”
President Barack Obama’s “first priority throughout this process” has been and is diplomacy, Kerry told the House Armed Services Committee this morning. He has been working with the Russians to find a negotiated settlement to the Syrian conflict. “But make no mistake, no political solution will ever be achievable as long as Assad believes that he can just gas his way out of this predicament.”
“Chemical weapons cannot be under the control of a man so craven” that he has used them against his own people, he said.
Yesterday, he said of what had the appearance of an off-hand remark, he challenged Syria to hand over its weapons to avert a strike. “It is exceedingly difficult to fulfill those conditions,” he said, noting that the Syrians appear to be responding to that demand. “We’re awaiting that proposal, but we’re not waiting long.”
The surrender of chemical weapons has to be “verifiable,” he said, and it has to be “swift. ”
“Nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of a hanging,” Kerry said, maintaining that it is “the threat of force” by the U.S. that has prompted Syria to even admit the presence of chemical weapons. “We are not going to war,” Kerry said. `What we’re talking about is a target, limited, but consequential action,” said Kerry — who just the other day referred to it as an ``unbelievably small” action.
“The president of the United States didn’t wake up one day and flippantly say, `Let’s go take military action in Syria’… He didn’t choose this,” Kerry told the committee. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and his regime “made a choice,” he said, and the U.S. “has no choice but to respond.”
The U.S. will face this threat now, “or somewhere down the line,” he said, where “permissiveness” will allow Syria to do anything it wants. “If we don’t answer Assad today,” he said, the U.S. will effectively leave U.S. troops vulnerable to weapons that have been barred for a century.
“Failure to act now will make this already volatile neighborhood even more combustible,” Kerry said. “In Israel, they can’t get enough gas masks.” And in Israel, he said, there’s a “reason this matters… It’s Iran…. They’re watching what we do here, they’re watching what you do.” Failure to act, he said, will send Iran “a message of weakness, a message of ambivalence.”
“The risk of not acting is much greater than the risk of acting,” Kerry said.
A “credible threat” of U.S. military action is essential to enforcing any diplomatic solution like the one now under discussion, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told the committee, repeating the Obama administration’s assertion that is that threat of action which has prompted Syria’s move on weapons.