December 13, 2013
US: Diplomatic solution for Syria will take time
The White House warned that a diplomatic solution over Syria would take "some time" and pledged to pursue talks despite skepticism from US lawmakers that Damascus would make good on a Russian plan to surrender its chemical weapons.
A day after President Barack Obama urged Americans to support his call for military strikes if diplomacy failed, officials warned of a long process ahead.
The diplomatic initiative, kicked off by Syria's close ally Russia as a way to avert US military strikes, was scheduled to move forward on Thursday when US Secretary of State John Kerry meets in Geneva with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
The State Department said those talks would last two days or more. At the heart of the talks will be Russia's opposition to a continued threat of military action that Washington says is needed to ensure Syria complies.
"We are doing the responsible thing here, which is testing the potential there for success," White House spokesman Jay Carney told a briefing, referring to a diplomatic push.
"I suspect this will take some time."
A senior State Department official said Kerry and Lavrov had spoken about their desire while in Geneva to have "a substantive discussion about the mechanics of identifying, verifying and ultimately destroying Assad's chemical weapons stockpile so they can never be used again," referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia's proposal for Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to international control, which has been agreed by Damascus, was seen by Obama as a possible way to avoid a military strike opposed by most Americans.
There has also been stiff opposition in Congress to military intervention. Obama conceded on Monday that he was not confident he had the votes for congressional authorization.
Obama wants to hold Assad accountable for a suspected chemical weapons attack in a Damascus neighborhood on Aug. 21 that US officials say killed about 1,400 people including 400 children. Syria denies it instigated such an attack.
US lawmakers expressed skepticism about Russia's plan.
Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on CNBC he was "1,000 percent supportive of us figuring out the right solution here diplomatically" but that he had "zero trust" in Russia.
Senator John McCain, a Republican who has been one of the most vocal proponents of a military strike, told a Wall Street Journal breakfast roundtable with reporters that he was not optimistic that diplomacy would succeed.
"Put me down as extremely skeptical," said McCain, who is among a bipartisan group of nine senators seeking to draft a resolution that would be presented to Congress for a vote if a diplomatic agreement is reached.
Under that proposal, US action would depend on a UN resolution demanding Assad put his chemical weapons under UN international control by a certain date. If he failed to do so, Obama would be authorized to use force.