Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is pushing a proposal that the Syrian government cede its chemical weapons stockpiles to international control–an option the White House said it would “take a hard look at” while not removing the threat of a military strike.
Secretary of State John Kerry suggested Syrian President Bashar al-Assad turn over his chemical weapons during a Monday news conference in London, in response to a question about if and how he could avoid U.S.-led military strikes.
“Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting,” Kerry said. “
“But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done,” Kerry added.
State Department spokesperson Marie Harf later called Kerry’s comments “rhetorical” and “hypothetical” in Monday’s daily briefing.
“He was speaking rhetorically about a situation we thought had very little probability of happening,” Harf said. “We will have to take a hard look at the Russian statement which is what’s happened since then so we understand exactly what the Russians are proposing here. Clearly, we have some serious skepticism.”
Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said on Andrea Mitchell Reports Monday that while the Obama administration is open to the proposal, it isn’t enough to take a U.S. strike off the table.
“It’s going to be very important that we don’t take the pressure off, because you can be assured that if the United States removes the threat of military action, that the Syrian government will never follow through on any commitment that they make to the international community,” Rhodes said.
The Obama administration has been pushing for international support for military strikes in Syria after obtaining evidence that it says shows Assad ordered the use of chemical weapons in an Aug. 21 attack outside Damascus, killing nearly 1,500 people including more than 400 children.
Russia has routinely used its veto power in the U.N. Security Council to block any action against the Assad regime.
“What we don’t want to have is a stalling exercise where the Syrians don’t follow through on commitments,” Rhodes added.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said Monday that Syria would welcome the Russian initiative to cede control of the chemical weapons stockpiles to the international community.
“It’s only now, faced with the threat of U.S. military action, that we’re even having this discussion,” Rhodes said.
The Obama administration has engaged in a full-court press leading up to Wednesday’s congressional vote on the use of force in Syria.
White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough appeared on all five Sunday shows, while Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Paris and Obama and Vice President Biden dined with GOP senators.
National Security Adviser Susan Rice urged a military strike on Syria in remarks Monday, and former Secretary of State Hillary did the same. Two House committees were set to be briefed Monday afternoon, followed by an early evening all-House briefing. On Tuesday morning, Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Martin Dempsey will testify at the House Armed Services Committee, and Obama is scheduled to meet with Senate Democrats.
Obama is set to address the nation in primetime Tuesday.