A Message from Rick: The Situation in Syria

Sep 23, 2013 Issues: National Security

The United States is engaged in an important national and international debate on how to respond to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons to kill large numbers of civilians. Through thousands of phone calls, letters and e-mails from constituents like you, I know that people in Northwest Washington are weary of war and want to avoid another armed conflict. I do too.

Under threat of U.S. military action, Russian and Syrian leaders changed course and offered a proposal for Syria to transfer control of its chemical weapons to the international community. This is a significant development, and it only happened because the Russians and Syrians saw that the United States and its international partners are serious about ending the threat of chemical weapons.

President Obama needs to take advantage of this diplomatic opening, and Syria needs to back its words with deeds. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad needs to agree to transfer control of his entire chemical weapons stockpile to the international community and he must sign the Chemical Weapons Convention. I offer my full support to President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power as they negotiate an enforceable agreement to destroy Syria’s ability to wage chemical warfare.

The agreement being discussed at the United Nations is still fragile and many of the technical details have not been worked out. I have several questions about how the agreement might be implemented. We must determine how to enforce the agreement, particularly during the ongoing civil war. And like all non-proliferation deals that we have signed with Russia since the 1960s, we must place continued emphasis on verification.

I have heard from some constituents who are skeptical of the reports on Syria, particularly with the recent memory of how faulty intelligence reports on Iraq helped lead the United States into war there. Let me assure you, the difference between the credibility of intelligence on Iraq and Syria is one of night and day.

I have reviewed the classified intelligence reports on Syria. The evidence makes it clear that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of innocent people. Further, the regime still has a large stockpile of chemical weapons and the ability to carry out future attacks. Contrary to what Assad and Russian President Vladimir Putin claim, American, French and British intelligence makes it clear that Assad’s government is responsible for the attack.

Since 1997 when the Senate ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, it has been the unambiguous policy of the United States that the use of chemical weapons is heinous and unacceptable. Unlike conventional weapons, their primary use is to kill mass numbers of civilians. I will continue to support efforts to control and destroy all remaining chemical weapons.

The only long-term solution to the war in Syria is a negotiated political settlement between the government and rebel forces. The United States must continue to support efforts to bring all sides to the table to pursue such an agreement.