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Local representatives optimistic about Syria
Congress confident diplomacy will work

Thursday, September 12, 2013

By DEBBIE HALL - Bulletin staff writer

Lawmakers who represent this area in Congress were cautiously hopeful Wednesday that the crisis with Syria might be resolved with diplomacy rather than U.S. military intervention.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., cast a subcommittee vote Sept. 4 for military strikes on Syria’s government but also said President Barack Obama should heed the will of Congress if it voted against military intervention. On Wednesday, he said the threat of an attack compelled the diplomatic discussions now underway.

“It is the credible threat of military action called for by the president and supported by the (Senate) Foreign Relations Committee that has convinced Syria to talk” about a diplomatic end to the international uproar caused by the use of chemical weapons on the Syrian people, Kaine said during a telephone interview.

Obama had called for a military strike against Syria in response to the use of chemical weapons and has asked Congress to approve such an action. However, on Tuesday he asked Congress to delay its vote on the matter after Syria seemed agreeable to the idea of turning over all of its chemical weapons for destruction, The Associated Press reported.

“I don’t think they just had a good weekend and woke up in a good mood Monday. I think they saw a president who was resolute that the use of chemical weapons would not go unpunished,” Kaine said.

There have been discussions with Syria about its chemical weapons for 20 years, he said. Syria reportedly has the second largest stockpile of chemical weapons — the use of which is illegal under international law — in the world. But as recently as a year ago, Kaine said the country was unwilling to admit it had the weapons, let alone entertain discussions focused on destroying them.

All the more reason the recent offer to discuss their destruction “is significant and serious. It could be a game-changer,” Kaine said. If the weapons are destroyed, perhaps that could be used as leverage to get Syria to negotiate an end to its civil war, he said.

The big hurdle right now is “we just have to figure out if it is sincere” or whether “they are trying to game us or buy time,” Kaine said.

Obama said the U.S. and its allies will work with Russia and China to present a resolution to the U.N. Security Council requiring Syrian President Bashar Assad to give up the chemical weapons and ultimately destroy them.

Today, Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva, according to the AP.

Kaine said he expects Kerry will remain there several days to determine the sincerity of the offer.

“I would suspect we will know by early next week whether it is a sincere offer or just to buy time,” Kaine said.

In the meantime, American ships in the Mediterranean Sea remain ready to strike Syria if ordered, the AP reported.

“We all hope — Americans and Syrians and everyone — there is a diplomatic solution,” Kaine said.

Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith said he also believes a diplomatic end would be best and could ensure that Syria’s chemical weapons are not used.

But he is somewhat skeptical as well.

“I think we have to wait and see before we make a final decision. ... But I hope it works out,” said Griffith, R-Salem. A diplomatic end “is the best scenario and would get rid of the chemical weapons so they can’t use them again.”

Such a solution “I think is very doable if Russia and Syria are in fact being sincere and this is not just some kind of stall tactic,” Griffith said.

U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued a statement following Obama’s speech Tuesday night urging his Senate colleagues “to craft a bipartisan resolution that includes tight deadlines and which allows unannounced, even intrusive, inspections by international observers.”

The use of chemical weapons against the Syrian people “was an atrocity that has been banned by international agreement for almost a century, and this conduct deserves strong international condemnation,” he wrote.

Exactly who used the chemical weapons has not been determined.

Fifth District U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, said in a statement issued after Obama’s speech that he will not support a military strike against Syria in response to the Aug. 21 use of chemical weapons against civilians.

“I have repeatedly stated that before the United States should commit any of its precious military resources — our lives and our treasure — to an attack on the Syrian regime, the president must articulate a compelling American national security interest that requires military action. I believe, as a member of Congress charged with the constitutional responsibility to provide for the national defense, I must make every effort to support our president and his judgment as our commander-in-chief. However, my ultimate responsibility is to our Constitution and to the people I represent,” Hurt wrote.

“I have listened to the president’s arguments; I have listened to the arguments of the secretary of State and the secretary of Defense in their classified briefing to Congress; and I have listened to the reasoning of the good people of Virginia’s Fifth District. Based upon all of the evidence presented to me and the arguments on both sides of the issue, I have concluded that, at this time, the president has not demonstrated that a compelling national security interest is at stake. Therefore, I will not be able to support the Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution should it come to a vote under these circumstances.”


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