Kerry Says Removing Syria Chemicals Can’t Be Delay Tactic

The U.S. won’t let a proposal for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to international control become an excuse for inaction, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said.

“We’re waiting for that proposal, but we’re not waiting for long,” Kerry told the House Armed Services Committee today. “It has to be swift, it has to be real, it has to be verifiable. It cannot be a delaying tactic.”

The “credible threat of force” by the U.S. is the only reason that Syria and its ally, Russia, are even considering a possible diplomatic solution, Kerry said.

While Kerry said that the U.S. threat is more effective if Congress acts on President Barack Obama’s determination to hold Syria accountable for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack, he said Obama may want to “chat with the leadership” of Congress about whether to hold off on votes he requested authorizing force.

The bid by Russia yesterday to disarm Damascus of its chemical agents stockpile shifted the terms of debate in a hearing that had been scheduled last week.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said he’s “hopeful” that Russia’s proposal for international control of Syria’s chemical weapons “could be a real solution to this crisis” that might avert a military strike.

“Yet we must be very clear-eyed and ensure it is not a stalling tactic by Syria and its Russian patrons,” Hagel told the committee.

“Congress has a responsibility to continue this important debate on authorizing the use of force” against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hagel said.

Obama’s Speech

Obama plans to explain his position on Syria and the need for a military strike in a nationally televised address from the White House tonight at 9 p.m. Washington time.

The president said yesterday that a U.S. attack on Syria “absolutely” would be put on hold if Assad followed through on Russia’s proposal to surrender his chemical weapons to international authority.

“We have to be skeptical because this is not how we’ve seen them operate over the last couple of years,” Obama said of Syria in an interview with NBC News broadcast last night.

The proposal emerged by surprise yesterday after Kerry remarked at a news conference in London that Syria could avoid a strike by giving up its chemical weapons. Kerry immediately added that Assad “isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”

Taking Credit

The suggestion took on a life of its own after Russia seized on it, Syria quickly embraced it, and lawmakers said it deserved consideration. Obama described Russia’s proposal as a potential “breakthrough” in a series of television network interviews yesterday, while adding that he would have to see the details.

Today, Kerry sought to portray his comment as the start of a U.S. initiative rather than an offhand remark. He said “we challenged the regime” to turn over its chemical weapons.

France said today it will submit Russia’s plan to the United Nations Security Council for a resolution demanding that Syria place its chemical arms under international control.

The draft resolution will call for Assad to be punished for the attack that the U.S. and allies say was carried out by the regime, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in Paris.

The Russian proposal must not be allowed to become a “diversion,” and the submission to the UN will help “nail down” the proposal, Fabius said.

Russia and the U.S. have been on opposing sides of the Syrian civil war, which has killed at least 100,000 people since March 2011. Assad’s army receives military supplies from Russia, a decades-old ally. The U.S. backs the rebels fighting to oust him and has signaled it may escalate support by sending weapons.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Lerman in Washington at dlerman1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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