Russia must be held accountable for Syrian President Bashar Assad's attacks on his own country's people, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Wednesday, calling for the United States and President Donald Trump's administration to actively engage in a diplomatic strategy.
"I agree we need to have congressional delegations engage with the Russian government and President Trump's ambassador to Moscow specifically urged that," Coons told MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
"Russia blocked the most recent delegation of senators that tried to go to Moscow for meetings."
At the same time, the United States must "hold Russia accountable for Assad's murderous actions against his own people," said Coons, referring to last weekend's suspected chemical attacks on rebels in a Damascus suburb, where dozens, including women and children, died.
"He can't just use chemical weapons against his own people without consequences," Coons said. "We need to commit to staying in the country. We need to hold Russia accountable for the crimes being committed by Assad, and actively engage in a diplomatic strategy, which includes being willing to commit to helping rebuild Syria if there is a future transition in government post Assad."
The senator said he agrees with the Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass, also appearing on the program segment, there must be a strategy devised for dealing with the Syrian incident.
Haass, a former ambassador, warned Trump will not accomplish his foreign policy ends with Russian President Vladimir Putin if he is overly confrontational or naive.
"This is a dangerous time," Haass said. "The U.S. commitments in Europe are far greater than our capabilities. We still live in an era the United States and Russia each have thousands of nuclear weapons. Russia has greater military assets in Syria than we do."
Trump early Wednesday threatened Russia through a tweet, saying:
In subsequent messages, he said the United States' relationship with Russia is at the worst point at any time, including during the Cold War, and blamed the issues in part on the ongoing investigation into election meddling.
"We need to be tough with them, but discipline tough," Haass said. "This is not discipline tough. This is the reason we've created a National Security Council to make sure when we confront our adversaries, we do it in a careful, disciplined manner. This ought to make people take pause."
"The only thing that's worse than a bad plan is no plan," Coons agreed. "It is unclear to those of us in the Foreign Relations Committee or the leadership of Congress exactly what the president's plan is with regards to Syria."
Just two weeks ago, Trump was calling for U.S. troops to withdraw fully from Syria, Coons added, and he thinks that partly created the current crisis.
"The president should not withdraw from Syria abruptly," he said. "It is our presence on the ground. It is our ongoing engagement with the Kurdish forces that helped take out most of ISIS that gives us the presence in Syria that also gives us leverage on the diplomatic table."
Haass pointed out there has not been a congressional delegation visit Moscow for four or five years, and said those should start again.
"So let's be both tougher with them, with sanctions, with our military force, but also more interactive with them diplomatically," he said. "We need to get both sides of this right."
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