Secretary of State John Kerry said an “unbelievably small, limited” military strike will be enough to halt Syria’s use of chemical weapons and hasten a political settlement to the 2 1/2-year civil war.
As Congress got set to debate a U.S. intervention, Kerry sought to reassure the public that the Obama administration won’t let a Syrian campaign evolve into a years-long commitment with ground troops, like the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We’re not talking about war, we’re not going to war,” Kerry said in a press conference in London today after a three- day mission to Europe. He spoke of a “limited, very targeted, very short-term effort.”
Syria’s bid to frustrate that effort took Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem to Moscow today, seeking a joint approach with Russia to defuse Western assertions that the Syrian regime is using chemical munitions against its own people. The two allies called for a peace conference instead of U.S. strikes.
Kerry’s tour yielded a European Union appeal to work through the United Nations, French determination to side with the U.S., support from as-yet undisclosed Arab countries and denunciations of Assad from Britain, the American ally in prior Middle Eastern wars which will stay out of this one.
The buildup toward another intervention by Western powers in the Middle East pushed oil prices to a two-year high on Sept. 6. West Texas Intermediate crude slipped from that peak today, falling 0.6 percent to $109.91 per barrel at 11:15 a.m. London time.
As President Barack Obama took his case to the U.S. public, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad did the same. In an interview with CBS News correspondent Charlie Rose, Assad denied a role in the Aug. 21 chemical attack near Damascus that the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people.
According to Rose, Assad said there is no evidence that Syria had a chemicals arsenal or used it against its citizens. CBS will broadcast excerpts of the interview this morning and the full interview will air on Rose’s Public Broadcasting System show tonight.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague, who briefed the London press with Kerry, warned not to “fall into the trap of attaching too much credibility” to Assad’s declarations.
Obama’s call for a narrowly targeted, rapidly executed strike on Assad’s war-making capability hinges on evidence that the regime carried out the Aug. 21 massacre, one of the darkest days in a civil war that has cost more than 100,000 lives since early 2011.
Questions about the intelligence pervaded a statement issued by EU foreign ministers on Sept. 7 after a meeting with Kerry in Lithuania. The evidence “seems to indicate” that Assad was behind the attack, the EU said, reflecting doubts that have arisen in Washington as well.
Kerry offered a timeline of what happened on Aug. 21, saying that Assad’s regime ordered preparations for a chemical attack, moved forces to the location and then launched rockets that “all came from regime-controlled territory and all landed in opposition-controlled or contested territory.”
“We know this,” Kerry continued. “We know that within moments of them landing in that territory, the social media exploded with videos that we also know could not be contrived.”
Congress returns to Washington today from recess. The Democratic-controlled Senate is likely to vote on a Syria resolution by the end of the week. The House, controlled by the opposition Republicans, takes up Syria on Sept. 16.
U.S. international lobbying had echoes of the second Bush administration’s assembly of a “coalition of the willing” to back the 2003 invasion of Iraq, be it militarily or politically. Some countries in the U.S. camp want to go further than Obama’s plan for a one-time strike.
Saudi Arabia and Turkey, for example, are pushing for Assad’s ouster. In an editorial today, Arab News, a Saudi newspaper, said “merely seeking stop-gap military intervention is not enough to stem the rot in Syria.”
© Copyright 2016 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.