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U.S. Fleshes Out Russian Plan For Syria's Chemical Weapons


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

President Obama last night urged a strike on Syria that he is not yet ready to order and that the country seems unready to accept.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I'm sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin.

INSKEEP: The U.S. wants to flesh out Russia's proposal to make Syria turn over its chemical weapons. This morning we spoke with Republican Senator John McCain, who supports a strike. He says he's disappointed the president paused and that the president didn't mention Syria's rebels last night.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: There was no mention of the Free Syrian Army. The air attacks from Bashar Assad's air began again yesterday when this pause was declared. That kills a lot of innocent people, those air attacks. And so it must be - I know it is - very dispiriting to the Free Syrian Army not to have the president express our support for them, not that we would send American boots on the ground but supply them with the weapons that they need. It must be very dispiriting to them.

INSKEEP: Okay, you've raised two or three points that bear following up on. And first having to do with the Russian proposal for which the United States is now pausing. Do you believe that proposal is workable at all?

MCCAIN: I'm extremely skeptical because Putin said yesterday, well, the United States will have to of course renounce the use of force. He's not renouncing it and rather than go to Geneva, for the secretary of State, John Kerry, to negotiate with Lavrov, why don't we go immediately to the United Nations Security Council with a resolution by the British and the French and us that lays out the steps that would have to be taken concerning a declaration of their weapons, international monitors, unfettered access, and basically move forward?

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. We're hearing elsewhere in the program from Nicholas Burns, longtime U.S. diplomat, who explained how a U.N. Security Council resolution could be backed by force. Other means might be voluntary and might not ever happen. But hasn't Russia already said it's not going to accept a U.N. Security Council resolution, that door's already closed?

MCCAIN: Then you have to question of the validity of their declaration that they want to assist. Are we going to have the fox guard the henhouse here when they're the ones that are providing these weapons massively? By the way, they have planeloads of weapons fly in every day into Damascus from Russia as well as - so my skepticism is very high. You can't rely on the Russians to be doing the work to police weapons that they are supplying.

INSKEEP: Well, let me ask you, Senator McCain, because what's contemplated here is a deal with Bashar al-Assad, who wants to keep his job, and presumably any deal would leave him in his job. Is it possible for the United States to negotiate with Assad on chemical weapons but at the same time arm or increase its assistance to Syrian rebels in a way to try to get him out?

MCCAIN: I believe so, because it's - one thing that's abundantly clear, as long as Bashar Assad thinks that he is winning, then he will remain in power. And let's remember, as horrible as these chemical weapons are, he's already massacred over 100,000 people. A million children are already refugees. And for us to provide assistance without any American boots on the ground to the Free Syrian Army when arms and weapons are flowing in from Iran as well as the five - and Russia - and the 5,000 Hezbollah that are on the ground, which really turned the tide, that without a change in momentum, that Bashar will not believe he has to leave.

INSKEEP: Has anyone from the administration given you assurances, Senator McCain, that even if the U.S. makes a deal with Assad, that they're not going to sell out, in effect, the Syrian rebels, that they will continue aiding the Syrian rebels?

MCCAIN: The president of the United States told Lindsay Graham and me, and in the Oval Office, there would be three objectives. One is degrade Bashar Assad's chemical weapons capabilities. Two was - is to provide assistance to the Free Syrian Army. And three was to change the momentum, to shift it in favor away from Bashar Assad. And that's why I was disappointed last night that the president didn't mention anything about assisting the Free Syrian Army. And in the Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee resolution, there is a provision that says exactly that as well.

INSKEEP: Senator John McCain of Arizona, thanks very much for joining us once again.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.