Beltway Confidential

Contra Vladimir Putin, John Kerry says Congress must threaten force to secure chemical weapons deal

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Beltway Confidential,Congress,Joel Gehrke,John Kerry,Syria,Vladimir Putin,Chemical Weapons

Secretary of State John Kerry argued that Congress must authorize the use of force in Syria in order to pressure Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to surrender his chemical weapons, even as Russian President Vladimir Putin said the United States must stand down for the deal to go through.

"We have to continue to show Syria, Russia, and the world that we are not going to fall for stalling tactics," Kerry said during his opening statement before the House Armed Services Committee Tuesday. "If the challenge we laid down is going to have the potential to become a real proposal, it is only because of the threat of force that we are discussing today. And that threat is more compelling if Congress stands with the Commander-in-Chief."

Putin, who offered to work with Assad to have Russia take control of the Syrian chemical weapons, sees it differently.

"[I]t will function and will work out, only if the U.S. and those who support it on this issue pledge to renounce the use of force, because it is difficult to make any country – Syria or any other country in the world – to unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration," the former KGB officer told Russia Today.

Putin offered to negotiate the agreement after Kerry told a reporter that Assad could avert a military attack by surrendering his chemical weapons.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki tried to walk back Kerry's remarks by characterizing them as a "rhetorical argument," but Putin – who has blocked action against Syria by the United Nations Security Council – took the opening.

Kerry spoke during the Tuesday hearing as if everything were going according to plan. "Yesterday, we challenged the regime to turn them over to the secure control of the international community so that they could be destroyed," he told House lawmakers. "And that, of course, would be the ultimate way to degrade and deter Assad’s arsenal, and it is the ideal weapon – ideal way to take this weapon away from him."

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