Clinton backs Obama, calls Russian offer ‘important’


Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with President Obama earlier today, and delivered a brief statement to reporters. Philip Bump published the full transcript, but there were a few elements worth highlighting.

Clinton naturally endorsed the administration’s belief that the alleged use of chemical weapons “demands a strong response from the international community led by the United States.” She added, as others in the administration have, that Syria’s stockpiles remain an ongoing threat: “Whether they are used again against Syrian civilians, or transferred to Hezbollah, or stolen by other terrorists, this is about protecting both the Syrian people and our friends in the region.”

And then there was this:

“Now, if the regime immediately surrendered its stockpiles to international control as was suggested by Secretary Kerry and the Russians, that would be an important step. But this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction. And Russia has to support the international community’s efforts sincerely, or be held to account.”

This was in reference, of course, to Secretary of State John Kerry’s suggestion earlier that Syria could avoid the threat of violence by giving up his chemical-weapons stockpiles – an off-hand comment that Russia, Syria, and the United Nations quickly seized upon as a possible diplomatic solution.

Did Kerry accidentally identify a way out of this crisis? Clinton’s reference to the developments suggested this is serious, but Reuters reports this afternoon that Kerry called Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, to say his suggested solution was not intended to be a diplomatic proposal.

In other words, Kerry made an off-hand comment; relevant international players took it seriously; there were suddenly renewed hopes for a resolution that did not involve U.S. military intervention; and the Secretary of State is now apparently trying to distance himself from the idea he apparently did not want to put on the table in the first place. (Simpsons fans may recall a similar dynamic in an episode in 1991. See, “Pull a Homer.”)

That’s not encouraging.

Still, accidental or not, Kerry’s suggestion is taking on a life of its own, and if Syria, Russia, and the U.N. are serious, the idea may yet produce results. Clinton’s willingness to talk about this during her brief comments suggests the administration isn’t dismissing the possibility out of hand.