U.S. warns diplomatic solution for Syria will take time

WASHINGTON Wed Sep 11, 2013 4:01pm EDT

A Free Syrian Army fighter peeks through a hole in a wall in Aleppo's Qastal al-Harami neighbourhood September 11, 2013. REUTERS/Nour Kelze

A Free Syrian Army fighter peeks through a hole in a wall in Aleppo's Qastal al-Harami neighbourhood September 11, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Nour Kelze

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The White House warned on Wednesday that a diplomatic solution over Syria would take "some time" and pledged to pursue talks despite skepticism from U.S. lawmakers that Damascus would make good on a Russian plan to surrender its chemical weapons.

A day after President Barack Obama urged Americans to support his call for military strikes if diplomacy failed, officials warned of a long process ahead.

The diplomatic initiative, kicked off by Syria's close ally Russia as a way to avert U.S. military strikes, was scheduled to move forward on Thursday when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The State Department said those talks would last two days or more. At the heart of the talks will be Russia's opposition to a continued threat of military action that Washington says is needed to ensure Syria complies.

"We are doing the responsible thing here, which is testing the potential there for success," White House spokesman Jay Carney told a briefing, referring to a diplomatic push.

"I suspect this will take some time."

Russia's proposal for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to surrender his chemical weapons to international control, which has been agreed by Damascus, was seen by Obama as a possible way to avoid a military strike opposed by most Americans.

There has also been stiff opposition in Congress to military intervention. Obama conceded on Monday that he was not confident he had the votes for congressional authorization.

Obama wants to hold Assad accountable for a suspected chemical weapons attack in a Damascus neighborhood on August 21 that U.S. officials say killed about 1,400 people including 400 children. Syria denies it instigated such an attack.

U.S. lawmakers expressed skepticism about Russia's plan.

Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on CNBC he was "1,000 percent supportive of us figuring out the right solution here diplomatically" but he said he had "zero trust" in Russia.

Senator John McCain, a Republican who has been one of the most vocal proponents of a military strike, told a Wall Street Journal breakfast roundtable with reporters that he was not optimistic that diplomacy would succeed.

"Put me down as extremely skeptical," said McCain, who is among a bipartisan group of nine senators seeking to draft a resolution that would be presented to Congress for a vote if a diplomatic agreement is reached.

Under that proposal, U.S. action would depend on a U.N. resolution demanding Assad put his chemical weapons under U.N. international control by a certain date. If he failed to do so, Obama would be authorized to use force.

THREAT OF FORCE

Other members of Congress said it was vital to maintain the threat of force. Damascus had previously denied it had used such weapons and refused to admit it even had a chemical weapons program.

"Assad and the Russian backers would not have raised that possibility (of scrapping the weapons) if they did not face the threat of military force, and they are unlikely to follow through if the threat does not remain credible," Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told a meeting of defense reporters.

He backed a provision in the French draft of a U.N. Security Council resolution that would open the way for military action if Syria fails to act on the weapons.

"America must be vigilant and be willing to use force if necessary and Congress should not take the threat of military force off the table," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat.

"If there's any indication these (talks) are not serious, if it's a ploy to delay, to obstruct, to divert, then I think we have to again give the president the authority to hold the Assad regime accountable," he said.

U.S. lawmakers said the Senate could start voting next week on a resolution to authorize the use of military force if diplomatic efforts fell short.

The Obama administration kept up its drive to win support for its approach.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden held two classified briefings at the White House for groups of Republicans from the House of Representatives, and deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken held a classified briefing for all House Democrats, an administration official said.

McCain questioned the decision to have Kerry meet with Lavrov, saying the United States needs to press ahead with more forceful action. "I feel badly, very badly for my friends in the Free Syrian Army today," he told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program.

"There is nothing more that will drive Syrians into the hands of the extremists than to feel that they have been abandoned by the West."

The rebel Syrian National Coalition has decried the diplomatic proposal as a "cheap trick" that would allow Assad more time to kill Syrians.

Kerry also intends to meet with U.N.-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi while in Geneva, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

(Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, Thomas Ferraro, Paul Eckert, Tabassum Zakaria and Jeff Mason; Editing by Karey Van Hall, David Storey and Jim Loney)

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Comments (64)
SubramanianV wrote:
What really happened in this Syrian episode? It ‘looked’ as though the President misspoke right from the beginning when he announced the ‘Red Line’. He ‘seemed’ to be giving Syria a long rope. It seemed to be in his nature. Abhorring war. “We shall wait till you use poison gas.” GOP was clamoring for immediate action. Reverting to good old Bush days. For weeks the President seemed to be wavering and confused. Should he or should not he. But people were not much concerned. Nobody thought it might escalate. Then the Red Line was crossed. Why? Things were going well for Assad. The President had been stopped on his track. Media seemed to be taking the side of war-tired nation. Then Assad wanted to put an end to the stalemate and along with also to put an end to his opposition. His resources were running out and so were his supporters. He played his trump card. He used the gas. He wanted an open rejection of our President’s request to use force against him. People on the one side and foes in the UN on the other, our President really seemed to have painted himself in a corner.
But Assad was wrong. He did what our President wanted him to do. Had Assad continued with his routine killing of his own people, nothing would have changed and quite possibly he would have been able to put down the opposition, though his regime would have been seriously wounded. But by forcing the President to opt for immediate action, he lost the battle even before it began. He and Putin realized through their own sources that this President is quite determined in hitting him with bombs. Russia cannot have it that way. Even the few allies it has, will start walking out. So hurriedly they had to find a way out and there you have the proposal to eliminate Syrian poison gas. The President proved several things: He is NOT a war monger. He is not trigger happy. He would wait, even at the cost of losing some favorable votes from people, rather than go ahead with hurried action.
Now it is for the Russians and Assad to keep to their commitment. Vacillation or repudiation will only make the hands of the President stronger and justify international action against Syria. And when the enemy on the other side is Russia, you bet, every American will be trigger happy!

Sep 10, 2013 10:04pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
divinargant wrote:
Russian proposal.. A genuine clean offer for resolving the issue at hand by peaceful means..or..a delaying tactic for a different agenda? I…ummm..am going to have to mark that ballot with a big ‘D’ for delay. Someone convince me that I am wrong.

Sep 10, 2013 10:05pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
xcanada2 wrote:
The President is saying very clearly that it is a fact that the Assad government perpetrated the gas attack. Also, that his guys found sarin in victims biological material.

Three questions:
(1) What was the motivation for Assad to do this?
(2) How can you say anything for sure, regards who did the gassing, when digital data can be doctored by almost anybody, never mind absolute specialists?
(3) How did the US determine sarin gas presence, when it takes the UN specialists weeks?

He also forgot to mention that the US has not ratified the CW treaty, and maintains huge stocks of CW materials.

BTW, is death by CW worse than death by bombs or drones? Limbs blown off, and watching your self die. Children too. I don’t think we are in any position to be too judgmental. Of course, I am against the bombing of Syria, and the drones, and the use of CW.

Sep 10, 2013 10:07pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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