Critics are "dead wrong" that President Barack Obama's "nonstrike" at Syria after drawing a "red line" at the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons irreparably damaged U.S. credibility, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted Tuesday.
In a wide-ranging interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe,
" Kerry said he could "understand the misunderstanding."
"I accept that friends of ours that the president's nonstrike impacted perceptions about us," he said. "I believe they are dead wrong, and I think the critics are dead wrong… The president made his decision to strike. He announced his decision to strike publicly. And the purpose of the strike was to get the chemical weapons out of Syria."
But Kerry said as members of Congress demanded the administration "ask permission" for any strike in Syria, "lo and behold, unbeknownst to everybody on the Thursday before the weekend we were going to strike, David Cameron went to the [British] Parliament and lost the vote."
"How in the wake of Britain's Parliament deciding 'no' in a democratic fashion with congressmen screaming 'you've got to come to us' can the president decide to stiff democracy in America and say 'no'?" Kerry asked.
Adding pressure against the strike was the United States achieving a deal "to get all of the declared weapons out of Syria," Kerry argued.
"Never before in a conflict has that ever happened – that during the conflict, weapons of mass destruction are taken out of the zone of conflict, and thank God we did that because if we hadn't done that today [the Islamic State (ISIS)] would have those chemical weapons in large parts of the country," he declared.
In the interview, Kerry also stressed in talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, both the United States and Russia agree on "some fundamental principles" for Syria – and insisted the war-wracked country can be "saved."
"There was agreement that Syria should be a unified country, united, that it needs to be secular, that ISIS needs to be taken on, and that there needs to be a managed transition," he said.
"You cannot bring peace to Syria as long as [Bashar] Assad is there. If you can resolve this transition of Assad, it is absolutely possible" to work with Russia to defeat ISIS, Kerry said.
On Monday, Russia's leader Vladimir Putin and Obama discussed information sharing on the crisis when they met in New York, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Peskov said an information center was being established in Baghdad to share information between Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Russia has also agreed to a separate such mechanism with Israel.
Peskov said he had no information of any Russian air strikes taking place against targets in Syria.
He also said ties between Washington and Moscow were still not at their best but expressed willingness to cooperate with the United States on solving acute crises, including in Syria.
But in his interview, Kerry said he also spoke with Putin at the end of the leaders' meeting about joint efforts to fight ISIS.
"He said to me very directly … '. I will think about that'," Kerry said. "[T]his is not easy for Putin. … Putin is there now. And if he wants to fight ISIL alone that's a challenge, folks. And if he does fight [ISIS] alone how does it work out for Russia to have sided with Assad, sided with Iran, sided with Hezbollah when they are trying to reach out to the rest of the Sunni world in the region. That's not a good equation for Russia."
Kerry also insisted it's not too late to save Syria, from where hundreds of thousands of refugees have now fled.
"I met with a number of refugees in Berlin the other day," he noted. "I was struck by how educated, intelligent and patriotic they are. They want to go back. … [I]f we can deal with [ISIS], yes, that's the key. And with [ISIS] there, not a chance. …. With Assad there, there is no Syria. so that's what the Iranians and Russians have to focus on."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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