Speaking alongside his British counterpart, Secretary of State John Kerry said in London that Syrian President Bashr Al-Assad has but one week to turn over his entire panoply of chemical weapons or face a U.S. attack. While British Foreign Secretary William Hague listened, Kerry said that he has no doubt that Assad is responsible for the August 21 chemical attack near Damascus. The former Massachusetts senator said that he has no expectation that Assad will comply with the U.S. demand.
The Senate will vote this week on whether or not to approve President Barack Obama’s request for authorization to use deadly force in Syria. Obama is due to speak to the nation on September 10 as he seeks public support for the attack. Kerry was ambivalent over whether the president would use his war powers to ignore Congress, if it were to reject an attack.
Following his remarks, the State Department hastened to explain that Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the one-week deadline. State said of Kerry in a statement, "His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That's why the world faces this moment."
Kerry said U.S. intelligence had watched as the Syrians built up their stock of chemical weapons for many years. He said the stockpiling "was controlled in a very tight manner by the Assad regime … Bashar al-Assad and his brother Maher al-Assad, and a general are the three people that have the control over the movement and use of chemical weapons.”
"But under any circumstances, the Assad regime is the Assad regime, and the regime issues orders, and we have regime members giving these instructions and engaging in these preparations with results going directly to President Assad.
"We are aware of that so we have no issue here about responsibility. They have a very threatening level of stocks remaining."
Kerry warned that if no action is taken to counter Assad’s use ofchemical weapons on his own people, "you are giving people complete licence to do whatever they want and to feel so they can do with impunity".
Kerry, a former Navy officer who as an anti-war activist famously accused U.S. forces in Vietnam of rape, torture and mutilation, that the coming U.S. attack on Syria will be "unbelievably small." Said Kerry, "We will be able to hold Bashar al-Assad accountable without engaging in troops on the ground or any other prolonged kind of effort in a very limited, very targeted, short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria's civil war. That is exactly what we are talking about doing – unbelievably small, limited kind of effort."
While referring to the Nazi effort to exterminate Jews and other enemies in the 1930s and 40s, and the Rwandan genocide of the 90s, Kerry said "We need to hear an appropriate outcry as we think back on those moments of history when large numbers of people have been killed because the world was silent," he said. "The Holocaust, Rwanda, other moments, are lessons to all of us today.”
"So let me be clear," he continued. "The United States of America, President Obama, myself, others are in full agreement that the end of the conflict in Syria requires a political solution."
British foreign secretary Hague said that the United Kingdom is calling for more efforts in the humanitarian square and support for the Geneva II peace process. He noted that Prime Minister David Cameron had huddled with other heads of government about Syria during the recent G20 Summit in Russia. Hague met with members of Assad’s opponents, describing them as democratic and non-sectarian. On September 9, Hague avoided questions on why the UK is not providing lethal aid to Assad’s opponents.
President Obama takes to the airwaves on September 9, appearing on various television shows in an effort to set out his case for military action. On September 10, he will meet with congressional Democrats. On the evening of September 8, Obama swung over to Vice President Joseph Biden’s mansion to meet with Republicans on the Syria issue. Media reports suggest that there is pessimism among Democrats and Republicans that Obama will succeed in his effort to win authorization. Nonetheless, his administration still reserves to itself the final decision on going ahead with a raid on Syria, with or without congressional authorization.