Update Thursday 5:24 p.m. Britain’s UN ambassador says that key powers have reached an accord on a U.N. resolution on Syrian chemical weapons.
Update Thursday 12:30 p.m. The U.N Security Council has reached an agreement on a resolution that will require Syria to dismantle its chemical weapons stores, according to U.N. diplomats. The U.S. and Russia continue to be at odds on how to enforce such a resolution.
Update Tuesday 9:50 a.m. Russia is concerned about talks with the U.S. on the conflict in Syria, saying they are worried force might be used. Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said “unfortunately it’s necessary to note that in contacts with the Americans, things are not going so smoothly … they are not quite going in the direction they should.” Citing the Obama administration’s continued insistence that force is still an option, Ryabkov said “we draw certain conclusions from that and assume that the threat of aggression in violation of international law is so for only delayed, not dismissed fully.”
Russia also said that a U.N. Security Council Resolution could include mention of Chapter VII of the U.N. charter. This could potentially allow force or sanctions if Syria violates the ban on chemical weapons.
Update Monday 2:41 p.m. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, denies the claim that his group has received any chemical weapons from Syria. “The accusation is truly laughable,” Nasrallah said. “We decisively and conclusively deny these accusations which have absolutely no basis in truth.”
UPDATE: Weekend President Assad said that he will allow international inspectors access to his chemical weapons sites, but added that the rebels might block access to some locations.
Former chemical weapons chief under President Assad, Brigadier-General Zaher al-Sakat, said in an interview with the Telegraph that he was ordered three times to use chemical weapons, but could not do it and replaced the chemical canisters with harmless bleach. He also said that Assad is not following the terms of the U.S.-Russian agreement to have his chemical weapons destroyed by transferring some weapons to his allies, including Hezbollah and Iran.
UPDATE: Friday 10:55 a.m. The Syrian rebels have dismissed the Assad regime’s call for a ceasefire, calling the Syrian’s Deputy Prime Minister’s announcement in the Guardian on Thursday “not a credible statement.” A spokesperson of the opposition’s National Coalition said that while they weren’t opposed to a ceasefire, “it has to be part of a comprehensive peace plan.”
UPDATE: Friday 10:44 a.m. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has received Syria’s initial chemical weapons report and is now reviewing it.
UPDATE: Thursday 3:30 p.m. Secretary of State John Kerry reasserted at a press briefing today that the Assad regime used chemical weapons and that the U.N. report confirms this even though that was not the stated purpose of the report. At one point, Kerry asked how the rebels could have even executed such an act as the U.N. report describes.
UPDATE: Thursday 2:04 p.m. NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen stated that NATO will not implement the U.S.-Russia agreement on Syria, “but of course individual allies may be willing to, and able to, contribute.” The U.S. has not requested NATO assistance in the, as of yet, unfinished agreement. When the agreement is completed and the U.N. consulted, Rasmussen stated “I hope to see a firm United Nations’ mandate that can provide the framework for a complete elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons. When that is in place, I think individual nations will start consideration [of] whether they can contribute to that task.”
UPDATE: Thursday 11:34 a.m. Putin said that Russia has “every reason to believe that [the chemical weapons attack in Syria] was a provocation, a sly and ingenious one.” On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia will give the U.N.S.C. evidence that the rebels are responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Damascus on August 21. As of yet, the Russians have not presented their evidence.
UPDATE: Thursday 10:45 a.m. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Thursday that Russia has no plans to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in Russia according to the U.S. Russian deal. “We have factories for the destruction of chemical weapons,” he said, “but there is a big difference between ‘ready’ and ‘willing.’” In an interview on Fox News Thursday night, Syrian President Bashar Assad said that the United States could take possession of Syria’s chemical weapons. As of now, no final plan has been determined for the destruction of the weapons.
An al-Qaeda affiliated group in Syria has began a campaign against its fellow rebels, the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army, according to a Wall Street Journal report. In the northern and eastern regions of Syria, the jihadist group, ISIS, is seizing rebel held territory, and some soldier of the Free Syrian Army reportedly consider the extremists as big of a threat as Assad’s forces.
UPDATE: Wednesday 2:20 p.m. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that Russia will give the U.N. evidence that the rebels used chemical weapons in Damascus on August 21, according to a BBC report. Russia and Syria have continued to insist that the rebels were responsible for the attack.
UPDATE: Overnight Former Defense Secretaries of the Obama administration Robert Gates and Leon Panetta criticized Obama’s decision to seek Congress’s approval for military intervention in Syria. “When the president of the United States draws a red line, the credibility of this country is dependent on him backing up his word,” Panetta said. Both were also skeptical of the current negotiations with Russia to have Syria turn over its chemical weapons.
Data within the United Nations report on the chemical weapons use in Syria indirectly pins blame on an elite military force loyal to the Assad regime, according to a New York Times report. Though the U.N. inspectors were not instructed to determine who initiated the attack, they did list the flight details for two of the rocket strikes, both of which lead back to the Assad regime.
According to the Voice of Russia, Syrian President Bashar Assad thanked Russia for helping Syria face down a “savage attack” from Islamic extremists backed by the West. “We highly value the Russian stance towards Syria. Such stands raise hope for a new roadmap for the world power balance,” Assad said.
UPDATE: Tuesday 3:21 p.m. Speaking on Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s continued denial that the Assad regimes used chemical weapons, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said that Lavrov is “swimming against the tide of international public opinion, but more importantly, the facts.” Psaki continued saying that the U.N. report “confirms unequivocally that chemical weapons, including the nerve agent sarin, were used in Syria […] but based on our preliminary view of information contained in the report, several crucial details confirmed the Assad regime’s guilt in carrying out the attack.”
UPDATE: Tuesday 12:27 p.m. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov continued to defend his claim that it was the Syrian rebels, not the Assad regime, that used chemical weapons in Damascus on August 21, telling the Russian State television in Geneva on Saturday that the agreement with America was made to prevent Syria’s chemical weapons from falling into the hands of radical rebels, not to respond to the Assad regimes killings. According to Lavrov, the Syrian rebels used chemical weapons in order to provoke a Western response.
UPDATE: Tuesday 9:58 a.m. A car bomb exploded on the border of Turkey and Syria, according to a Syrian activist group. The bombing occurred in the northwestern province of Idlib in a region controlled by the Syrian rebels.
UPDATE: Monday, 5:35 p.m. In a statement released today, the Syrian armed forces blamed Turkey for being “hasty” and escalating conflict in shooting down a Syrian helicopter in Turkish airspace. “The hasty response from the Turkish side, especially as the aircraft was on its way back and was not charged with any combat missions, is proof of the true intentions of Erdogan’s government toward Syria to increase tensions and escalate the situation on the border between our two countries.” The statement was released by the Syrian state news agency SANA.
UPDATE: Monday, 2:12 p.m. State Department spokesperson Marie Harf assured the press corps today that the current U.S. agreement with Russia on Syria does not guarantee that Assad will remain in power to execute the destruction of his regime’s chemical weapons. Regardless of who specifically is in power, Marie Harf said, “the [Syrian] regime still has the responsibility” to get rid of the chemical weapons.
UPDATE: Monday, 1:24 p.m. The organization for the prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a watchdog tasked with implementing the plan to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons, stated that “the programme to eliminate chemical weapons in Syria will be initiated in a matter of days.”
UPDATE: Monday, 12:52 p.m. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that the U.N. report documenting the use of chemical weapons in Syria leaves “no doubt” that the Syrian government was responsible.
UPDATE: Monday, 12:09 p.m. A U.N. report on Syria released today says that the perpetrator of the chemical weapons attack in Damascus on August 21 must have had up to 350 liters of sarin gas along with surface-to-surface missiles. Though the U.N. does not hold responsible any party in Syria, it does offer “signs of culpability,” according to a CNN source within the U.N.
UPDATE: Monday, 12:02 p.m. Turkish Warplanes have shot down a Syrian helicopter that violated Turkish airspace, according to Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc.
UPDATE: Monday, 11:57 a.m. Secretary General of the U.N. Ban Ki-Moon told the U.N. council that the chemical weapons attack in Damascus on August 21 is a “war crime.”
UPDATE: Monday, 11:52 a.m. Senator John McCain (R., Ariz.) has reportedly “felt a little lonely from time to time” because of his being one of the few advocates for a U.S. military strike in Syria. “There are times when leaders have to stand up, and frankly, when others have to say what they believe,” McCain said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
UPDATE: Weekend The U.S. and Russia reached an agreement on Saturday indicating that there needs to be an inventory taken of Syria’s chemical weapons in the next week followed by a complete destruction of the program by mid-2014. Secretary of State John Kerry said “If Assad fails in time to abide by the terms of this framework, make no mistake, we are all agreed—and that includes Russia—that there will be consequences.”
The U.N. is currently investigating 14 cases of chemical weapons use, though U.N. human rights investigators said they are still unable to hold responsible one side of the other. The U.N. has also stated that there is “convincing evidence” that chemical weapons were used in Syria.
The New York Times reports that due to the most recent agreements between Russia, the U.S., and Syrian president Bashar Assad, the Syrian rebels are deflated while the government supports are joyous. The agreement between Syria, Russia, and the U.S. effectively curtails the risk of any immediate U.S. military strike while legitimizing Assad as a diplomatic partner. The Syrian rebels were reportedly hoping for a U.S. military strike to regain momentum in the civil war.
UPDATE: Friday, 3:16 p.m. The editors of the Russian newspaper Pravda have tentatively agreed to publish a column by Senator John McCain attacking Russian President Putin. Putin penned an op-ed in the New York Times two days ago that criticized America and urged America to be cautious in regards to Syria. This comes after a CNN interview with John McCain where, when McCain was asked about Putin’s op-ed and Russia’s restrictions on freedom of the press, McCain joked that he “would love to have a commentary in Pravda.” “If John McCain wants to write something for us, he is welcome,” said Dmitry Sudakov, the English editor of Pravda.
UPDATE: Friday, 2:46 p.m. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with his French and British counterparts in Paris on Monday to discuss Syria.
UPDATE: Friday, 2:15 p.m. A report by the U.N. will likely confirm that chemical weapons were used in Damascus on August 21, according to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. “I believe that the report will be an overwhelming, overwhelming report that chemical weapons [were] used,” he said.
UPDATE: Friday, 2:03 p.m. Secretary of State Kerry reported that he had “constructive” talks with Russia, but as of yet there is no agreement. “We would both agree that we had constructive conversations regarding [Syria’s chemical weapons], but those conversations are continuing,” Kerry said.
UPDATE: Friday, 10:04 a.m. A Syrian military unit has been scattering the Assad regime’s stockpile of chemical weapons to as many as 50 sites in order to make it harder for the U.S. to track, according to the Wall Street Journal. Not only does this move make the Russian proposal to have Syria hand over its chemical weapons to the international community less likely, it could also complicate a U.S. bombing campaign due to the administrations stated desire to not bomb chemical weapons sites for fear of risking the weapons’ security or causing a humanitarian crisis.
UPDATE: Thursday 3:22 p.m. Secretary of State John Kerry rejected President Assad’s proposal to submit data on Syria’s chemical weapons the month after signing the chemical weapons ban. “The words of the Syrian regime in our judgment are simply not enough,” Kerry said.
UPDATE: Thursday 1:04 p.m. The U.N. has received a document from Syria to join the chemical weapons ban treaty and is currently in the process of being translated, according to the Associated Press.
UPDATE: Thursday 12:21 p.m. When asked during a press briefing for a “blunt” response to Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times, Speaker Boehner answered, “I was insulted.” Earlier, President Obama refused to answer questions on the op-ed.
UPDATE: Thursday 11:57 a.m. President Assad stated that Syria will join the chemical weapons convention “in the next few days” and submit its arms data a month after signing the convention, according to BBC.
UPDATE: Thursday 11:37 a.m. Former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director Leon Panetta argued on NBC this morning that it is in America’s best interest “to back up the rebels” in Syria. He further remarked that we cannot let the Syrian negotiations drag on into delay.
UPDATE: Overnight Two weeks ago, the CIA began delivering weapons to selected rebels in Syria, according to a Washington Post report, something the Obama administration promised several months ago. The arms shipments are limited to light weapons and munitions.
Russian president Vladimir Putin wrote an op-ed for the New York Times urging the U.S. to be cautious when it comes to intervention in Syria and arguing that no action should be taken without agreement at the United Nations.
Assad rebuffed the Obama administration’s claims that the Syrian decision to hand over its chemical weapons was caused by the threat of U.S. force: “Syria is placing its chemical weapons under international control because of Russia. The U.S. threat did not influence the decision.”
UPDATE: Wednesday, 2:07 p.m. When asked about the proposal on Syria that Russia purportedly sent the Obama administration, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said Russia sent more “ideas “ and not a “lengthy packet of plans.”
UPDATE: Wednesday, 2:04 p.m. The permanent members of the U.N. Security Council will meet today to discuss Syria.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 1:59 p.m. Secretary of State Kerry will be heading to Geneva this evening to meet with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday and Friday to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki announced. Kerry’s talks with Lavrov could extend to Saturday.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 12:55 p.m. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D., Mich.), said that he is working on a new resolution that would link the use of force in Syria with the failure to achieve a political solution stripping Assad of his chemical weapons. “What we are working on is a way of linking the authorization directly to the discussions that are taking place and the possibility of a political resolution with the Syrians agreeing to remove all of the chemical weapons,” Levin said.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 11:47 a.m. According to CNN, Russian officials have submitted a plan to the U.S. for putting Syria’s chemical weapons under international control.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 11:20 a.m. Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., stated that “If you’re sitting in Putin’s seat, I think you’re feeling pretty good today,” at a Wall Street Journal breakfast this morning. McCain continued to decry the fact that President Obama made no mention of aiding the Free Syrian Army in his speech last night.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 11:12 a.m. Senate Majority Leader Harry Read, D-Nev., insists that the Syria resolution is still being considered. “We’ll see what we can do to give the president the time and space that our country needs” for diplomacy, Reid said, but “congress should not take the threat of military action off the table.”
UPDATE: Wednesday, 10:54 a.m. Russia has confirmed that it will sell Iran a nuclear reactor and five S-300 anti-aircraft missile batteries. Three years ago Russia called of the transfer of these S-300 batteries due to a U.N. Security Council sanction against Iran. A senior Russian lawmaker also said that Russia could sell more arms to Iran and revise the terms of an agreement for U.S. military transit to Iran if Washington launches a strike on Syria. Earlier this year, Russia had attempted to sell Syrian President Assad S-300 missiles, but faced fierce opposition from Israel, saying they would destroy any such Syrian missiles before they became operational.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 10:22 a.m. Congressman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has decided that he will vote “no” on the Syria resolution, according to Wisconsin based commentator Charlie Sykes.
UPDATE: Overnight Senator John McCain said the Syrian opposition fighting against President Assad feel “abandoned” by President Obama. “I was very disappointed that the president did not mention the Free Syrian Army and our moral and material assistance for them.”
Former governor of Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean said last night that after the diplomatic proposal from Russia to have Syria hand over its chemical weapons, the U.S. “is done here.” After President Obama’s address last night, Dean said on MSNBC , “Putin has now said ‘Assad is not going to use these and I’ll make sure that he doesn’t.’ He’s on the hook, whether you get an agreement at the United Nations is irrelevant.”
UPDATE: Tuesday 6:35 p.m. The vote on authorizing a military strike in Syria has been delayed until next week, maybe longer, after President Obama requested more time to explore a possible diplomatic solution, according to Politico. Congress obliged to this request with most lawmakers facing strong opposition to involvement in Syria from their constituents.
UPDATE: Tuesday 4:34 p.m. As negotiations continue over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile and possible transfer, votes to authorize a strike on Syria have been put on hold. Any vote on a Syrian resolution will be “drive by developments taking place, not by some artificial timeline,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said. While Reid wishes to wait to see what changes occur in negotiation, he added, “We have to make sure the credible threat of military action remains.”
UPDATE: Tuesday 3:51 p.m. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday to discuss Syria.
UPDATE: Tuesday 3:36 p.m. Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas) says that President Obama has asked for time to vet the Russian proposal on Syria’s chemical weapons. As such, votes on authorizing him to use military force to strike Syria are unlikely this week.
UPDATE: Tuesday 2:56 p.m. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said that Syria is ready to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention and open up its chemical-weapons storage sites.
“We intend to give up chemical weapons altogether,” Muallem said.
Secretary of State John Kerry says that Syria should “go further” than declaring its chemical weapons and signing the Chemical Weapons Convention. He says that any deal has to come from a binding UN Security Council resolution.
UPDATE: Tuesday 2:34 p.m Russia’s Interfax news agency reported that Syria wants to join the chemical weapons ban treaty. “We will respect our commitment in relation to the treaty, including providing information on these weapons,” Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Muallem said.
UPDATE: Tuesday 2:24 p.m. Representative Ted Poe, R-Tex., said the President should return his Nobel Prize if the U.S. becomes militarily engaged with Syria; “If he starts a war with Syria, I suggest the president return the Nobel Peace Prize.”
UPDATE: Tuesday 1:30 p.m. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that chemical weapons checks can go ahead in Syria if the U.S. renounces the use of force, according to Agence France-Presse.
UPDATE: Tuesday 1:18 p.m. Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa., argued that congress should still pass the Syria resolution in order to keep pressure on Syria so that it turns over its chemical weapons. This is consistent with the President Obama and Secretary Kerry’s arguments that this chemical weapons proposal only came because of the threat of force.
UPDATE: Tuesday 1:14 p.m. The U.N. Security Council will hold a meeting on Syria today at 4:00 p.m.
UPDATE: Tuesday 12:30 p.m. Senator Ed Markey, D-Mass., who voted “present” in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee vote on the Syrian resolution, announced that he is against the measure authorizing a military strike against the Syrian government. “I cannot support the resolution that passed the Foreign Relations Committee to use force in Syria because it is too broad, the effects of a strike are too unpredictable, and because I believe we must give diplomatic measures that could avoid military action a chance to work,” Markey said.
UPDATE: Tuesday 12:15 p.m. Secretary of state Kerry said that while placing Syrian chemical weapons in international control was “ideal,” he added that “we will not wait long.”
UPDATE: Tuesday 12:12 p.m. Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Derek Chollet, the assistant secretary of defense for international affairs, and someone from the intelligence community will give a top secret briefing to chiefs of staff, legislative directors, and others with top secret clearance today, Politico reports. The briefing will be about “U.S. policy for Syria and recent events.”
UPDATE: Tuesday 11:50 a.m. Russia is not “not necessarily enthusiastic” to agree to a binding U.N. Security Council resolution providing a framework to transfer control of Syria’s chemical weapons, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said. Yesterday Russia formally made the proposition for Syria to give its chemical weapons to the international community.
UPDATE: Tuesday 11:42 a.m. Secretary of state John Kerry said today that Russia’s proposal to have Syria relinquish control of its chemical weapons only happened because of the threat of U.S. force. While speaking to the House Armed Services Committee, Kerry said that the threat of force must remain “on the table” so Assad will not use chemical weapons again.
UPDATE: Tuesday 11:15 a.m. President Obama has agreed to begin discussions within the U.N. in order to “explore seriously the viability” of the Russian proposal for Syria. Obama spoke with his French and British counterparts, saying “they agreed to work closely together and in consultation with Russia and China” to ensure the weapons “verifiable and enforceable destruction.”
UPDATE: Tuesday 10:56 a.m. Senator Rob Portman, R-Ohio, stated that if the current resolution comes to the Senate floor, “I would not be able to support it.” “We need a comprehensive, long-term strategy first,” he said.
UPDATE: Tuesday 10:49 a.m. House Speaker John Boehner said he is “somewhat skeptical” of the new push to have Syria hand over its chemical weapons in exchange for a U.S. promise to not militarily intervene. When asked why he is skeptical, Boehner said because of the “actors involved.”
UPDATE: Tuesday 10:45 a.m. A Fox News poll reports that 54 percent of Americans now disapprove of the job Barack Obama is doing as president. An NBC News and Wall Street Journal Survey poll also reported that 57 percent of Americans disapprove of the President’s handling of Syria, a thirteen point increase since August.
UPDATE: Tuesday 10:33 a.m. Senator Mitch McConnell, R.-Ky., indicated he would not vote for the Syria resolution saying President Obama’s proposal “just doesn’t pass muster.” One punitive strike “cannot make up for the president’s performance over the last 5 years,” he said.
UPDATE: Overnight Syria reportedly accepts Russia’s proposal to transfer chemical weapons to international control in order to avert a U.S. military strike. France has indicated that it will draft a U.N. Security Council Resolution to implement the plan, and both China and Iran voiced support. Secretary of state John Kerry first mentioned the proposal Monday morning in an off-hand remark to reporters that was later called a “goof” by an administration official. However, the proposal now has growing support after being officially submitted to the Syrians by the Russians.
Senator John McCain said that while he is very skeptical of the Russian plan to have Syria hand over its chemical weapons to the international community, it would be a “mistake” not to see where the proposal goes.
UPDATE: Monday 6:00 p.m. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., will also be voting no on the resolution authorizing a military strike in Syria. “After carefully weighing this very important issue, I have decided that I will vote against the resolution to authorize a U.S. military strike in Syria,” he said. “The administration’s lack of a clear strategy is troubling, and the potential fallout following a military strike is also troubling.”
UPDATE: Monday 4:26 p.m. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron reacted positively to the recent proposal calling for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons to the international community in exchange for the United States promising to not intervene in the Syrian Civil War. “Today there were very interesting proposals about the chemical weapons,” Merkel said. “If this is intended to elad to action and not to just play for time, then Germany will push hard for this path to be further pursued.” Prime Minister Cameron stated, “if Syria were to put its chemical weapons beyond use, under international supervision, clearly that would be a big step forward and should be encouraged.” Nevertheless, both expressed worries that this may be another delay tactic.
Senator Barbara Milkulki, D-Md., stated on the floor of the Senate that she supports the president’s plan for military intervention in Syria.
UPDATE: Monday 3:37 p.m. Senator Roy Blunt, R-Mo., issued a statement today, saying he will not support the Senate’s Syria resolution: “It is clear that the Administration’s policies toward Syria have not worked. […] I’m not convinced that the President’s strategy lines up with the policy goals our country should have, or that the Administration currently has realistic policy goals in Syria.”
UPDATE: Monday 3:30 p.m. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that the Russian proposal to have Assad surrender control of his chemical weapons to the international community is “acceptable.” “The proposal of the Russian Foreign Minister […] would be acceptable under at least three conditions,” Fabius said. First, Assad would need to quickly relinquish control of his chemical weapons to the international community, second, the weapons would need to be destroyed, and third, there should be a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing this course of action.
UPDATE: Monday 2:15 p.m. The Senate is scheduled to take the first vote on Syria this Wednesday.
UPDATE: Monday 1:33 p.m. State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf said in a press briefing today that the U.S. will take a “hard look” at the Russian proposal to have Syria gives its chemical weapons to the international community; however, the administration still harbors “serious and deep skepticism” that Syria would actually give up their chemical weapons.
UPDATE: Monday 1:07 p.m. Obama officials will brief the full Senate this Wednesday at 2:30.
UPDATE: Monday 12:56 p.m. The White House released a brief listing additional counties that now “condemn in the strongest terms the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons on August 21.” The latest countries to have signed on to the public statement condemning Assad’s use of chemical weapons are Albania, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Honduras, Hungary, Kosovo, Latvia, Lithuania, Morocco, Qatar, Romania, and the United Arab Emirates.
UPDATE: Monday 12:32 p.m. Representative Bruce Braley (D., Iowa), has requested that Speaker John Boehner cancel the week-long September recess later this month in order to address Syria and other issues. “With recent events in Syria, the president’s request for authorization of the use of military force requires a robust debate in Congress that should not be rushed.” Earlier this year, Braley requested that Congress skip the August recess to complete the farm bill.
UPDATE: Monday 12:02 p.m. United Nations secretary general Ban Ki Moon said that if U.N. inspectors confirm the use of chemical weapons in Syria an international response would be warranted. He also said he is considering urging the Security Council to demand that Assad turn over his chemical weapons.
UPDATE: Monday Morning Congress is returning to Washington after a month long August recess. At the top of the agenda is President Obama’s Syria resolution.
Syrian president Bashar Assad announced that a U.S. strike in Syria would bring “repercussions.” In a CBS interview taped in Damascus, Assad told the United States, in the event of a U.S. attack, “You should expect everything. Not necessarily from the government. . . . You have different parties, you have different factions, you have different ideology. . . . Expect every action.” When asked whether the retaliation might involve chemical weapons, the president said, That depends if the if the rebels or the terrorists in this region or any other group have it, it could happen, I don’t know.” In the interview Assad also denied the use of chemical weapons and stated again that any attack on Syria “is going to support al-Qaeda.”
Democratic senator Hedi Heitkamp of North Dakota is the latest senator to oppose the resolution authorizing military intervention in Syria. “I still believe we need to have an open and honest discussion on the Senate floor about the potential use of force in Syria,” Heitkamp said. “However, after all these meetings I still have concerns. I cannot support the current Senate resolution to authorize force at this time.”
UPDATE: Friday, 5:43 p.m. Military officials told NBC News that the White House has asked that the Pentagon prepare an expanded list of targets in Syria. The list is requested to include targets that can be hit with long-range bombers. Previous plans for military strikes in Syria focused on Tomahawk missiles launched from destroyers in the Mediterranean.
UPDATE: Friday, 5:36 p.m. The FBI warned businesses that the Syrian Electronic Army, a hacking group loyal to the Syrian government, may intensify its internet attacks as the U.S. continues to debate military strikes. The Syrian Electronic Army has claimed responsibility for attacks on the Marine Corps recruiting page, the New York Times Web page, and the Associated Press Twitter account. The FBI warns that the “possibility of U.S. military action in Syria may lead to further escalation of computer network operations by pro-Syrian or other aligned cyber actors.”
UPDATE: Friday, 4:48 p.m. Bloomberg news released a helpful graphic detailing the Congressional vote count on the Obama Administration’s proposed military intervention of Syria. As most lawmakers remain publicly undecided, President Obama has a long way to go to get approval.
UPDATE: Friday, 3:05 p.m. White House aides report that Vice President Joe Biden will be hosting a dinner with a dozen Republican Senators to discuss the Syria authorization resolution.
UPDATE: Friday, 2:43 p.m. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power stated today that we have already exhausted all non-military alternatives in Syria: “Some have asked […] why we cannot use non-military tools to ahieve the same ends. My answer to this question is: we have exhausted the alternatives.”
UPDATE: Friday, 2:20 p.m. When asked about how the administration views the prospects for international and congressional support for military intervention in Syria, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said “the trend line is positive” both internationally and on the Hill. When asked for concrete examples on how the trend is positive, Harf only cited the statement by eleven G-20 members calling for a “strong international response” to Syria’s use of chemical weapons. She provided no other examples of the positive trend.
UPDATE: Friday, 1:24 p.m. Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State under Bill Clinton, called on Congress to authorize a military strike in Syria. “I urge Congress to vote ‘yes’ on the resolution authorizing a military response to Bashar Assad’s illegal and immoral use of chemical weapons to murder more than one thousand innocent people,” Albright said. “The United States and the world community either have the courage to establish and enforce the standards of civilized conduct or they do not. Either option has risks, but to me, the risks of complacency and inaction far outweigh those of the limited, but purposeful, response now contemplated.”
UPDATE: Friday, 12:48 p.m. Top Obama Administration officials including National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Secretary of State John Kerry, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey, and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will brief the entire House of Representative on Monday night on the president’s proposed military intervention in Syria.
UPDATE: Friday, 12:27 p.m. The Senate has formally filed the resolution authorizing the president to militarily intervene in Syria. This sets up a procedural vote for Wednesday. Top administration officials will continue to brief senators until that time.
UPDATE: Friday, 12:09 p.m. Saudi Arabia, a major ally of the U.S. in the Persian Gulf, has been quietly pushing for a U.N. General Assembly vote to condemn the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Foreign Policy magazine reports. This could possibly open the door for military action in order to hold Syrian President Bashar Assad accountable.
UPDATE: Friday, 10:57 a.m. At the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg President said the road to Congressional approval for intervention in Syria will be tough. When asked what he would do if Congress does not approve the Syria resolution Obama said “you’re not getting a direct answer.”
UPDATE: Friday, 10:50 a.m. President Obama announced that he will speak to the American people from the Oval Office on Syria this Tuesday. Many lawmakers in Congress have called on Obama to make the case for intervention directly to the American people. Obama will make his remarks amidst waning support in Congress and the international community.
UPDATE: Friday, 9:43a.m. The U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, has reported that it will be evacuating all non-essential staff and family members because of “threats to U.S. mission facilities and personnel.” The State Department has already issued warnings telling American citizens to avoid travel to Lebanon or to leave if they are already there.
UPDATE: Overnight The U.S. has intercepted a message from Iran to anti-American militants in Iraq ordering the militants to attack the U.S. embassy and other American interests in Baghdad if America strikes Syria, the Wall Street Journal reports. U.S. officials also fear that Hezbollah might threaten the U.S. Embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, and the State Department has pulled diplomats out of Adana in Southern Turkey near the Syrian border.
After the U.S. stopped lobbying the U.N. Security Council to act in Syria, citing Russian intransigence, China’s Foreign Minister is now urging a role for the U.N.S.C. in resolving the Syrian civil war. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said “China supports the important role that the U.N. Security Council plays in properly resolved the Syria issue.”
Senators Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) have drafted a new Senate resolution on Syria that would give Syria 45 days to sign an international chemical weapons ban or face retaliation from the U.S. The resolution would also require that the president submit a strategy for Syria to Congress and pursue all diplomatic options to stop the use of chemical weapons during the 45-day period.
Congressman Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.) has changed his position on intervention in Syria, now arguing that the U.S. should not intervene. Grimm stated that a large reason he changed his mind was Obama’s comments that he did not draw a red line; rather the world drew a red line on chemical weapons. “When I see the president backtracking on what he said and what I was relying on to back him,” he said, “that obviously is a big concern with me.”
UPDATE: Thursday, 5:40 p.m. An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, reported that President Obama and top officials within the administration have now lobbied 60 senators and 125 house members in an effort to win support for the authorization of a military strike on Syria. Those involved in the outreach effort include President Obama, Vice President Biden, Secretary of State Kerry, Secretary of Defense Hagel, National Security Advisor Susan Rice, and U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power. While Obama has won support of the many prominent House leaders, including Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi, he seems to be facing strong opposition among much of the rank and file of both parties.
UPDATE: Thursday, 5:09 p.m. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W. Va. and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, issued a statement opposing U.S. military intervention in Syria: “Given the case that has been presented to me, I believe that a military strike against Syria at this time is the wrong course of action. In good conscience, I cannot support the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s resolution and will be working with my colleagues and the administration to develop other options.”
UPDATE: Thursday, 2:24 p.m. Former Congressman Ron Paul stated today that it would be “historic” if Congress defeated President Obama’s proposal to militarily intervene in Syria. “I think [this vote] will be historic because [if Obama’s request is denied] it would be a grand coalition of the Libertarian Republicans and the Democratic Progressives,” Paul said.
UPDATE: Thursday, 2:07 p.m. Congressman Elijah Cummings, D.-Md., expressed great worry about what the U.S. would do after a military strike in Syria. “The more information I learn, the more I am convinced that we have got to try and figure out what happens after this, because I do believe from everything that I’ve read that President Assad will retaliate.” Cummings has not decided whether or not he would vote against intervention, but he did indicate that 95% of calls coming in to his office say “no” to involvement in Syria.
UPDATE: Thursday, 1:39 p.m. The White House has launched a new web page for news on Syria. According to the site, viewers can “explore this page to learn more about President Obama’s response to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in Syria and get the latest news from the White House about the situation.”
UPDATE: Thursday, 1:22 p.m. State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki identified nine foreign countries that have endorsed U.S. military intervention in Syria; however she refused to state which nations will join in the proposed military action. Those countries in support of the U.S. are Australia, Albania, Canada, Denmark, France, Kosovo, Poland, Romania, and Turkey.
UPDATE: Thursday, 11:20 a.m. Russian president Vladimir Putin called Secretary of State John Kerry a liar over Kerry’s testimony before Congress this week, continuing to contest U.S. claims that Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. “This was very unpleasant and surprising for me,” Putin said. “We talk to [the Americans] and we assume they are decent people, but he is lying and he knows he is lying.”
UPDATE: Overnight Robert M. Gates, secretary of defense in the Bush administration and the Obama administration, is urging Congress to approve intervention in Syria. “Whatever one’s views on current U.S. policy toward Syria,” Gates said, “failure by Congress to approve the request would, in my view, have profoundly negative and dangerous consequences for the United States not just in the Middle East but around the world both now and in the future.”
A spokesman of Speaker John Boehner has confirmed that Boehner turned down an invitation to meet with a Russian delegation arriving next week. Russian president Vladimir Putin dispatched the delegation to lobby the United States congress against intervention in Syria. Boehner has already made public his support for intervening in Syria.
Former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, known for hawkish views on Iran, opposes strikes in Syria: “What is happening there is tragic, but it is not in the United States’ best interest to intervene with a military strike. . . . I urge my former colleagues in the House and Senate to defeat any measure calling for the use of force in Syria.” While Santorum believes that, with earlier intervention, the U.S. could have toppled Assad and helped Syria become a stable democracy, now he thinks that because the Assad regime is too strong and the rebel forces are too extreme, “a military strike would no longer be in our national-security interest.”
Senator David Vitter (R., La.) announced that he will oppose the resolution approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday authorizing military strikes in Syria. “After a lot of careful and thoughtful prayer,” Vitter said in a statement, “I have decided that I will vote NO on the Syria war resolution.” While acknowledging the atrocities occurring within Syria, Vitter said “they do not pose a direct threat the United States” and worried that intervening “could spark a broader war and/or entangle us in Syria’s protracted civil war . . . all while our troops are underfunded.”
Testifying at a House Foreign Affairs Committee meeting yesterday, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel seemed to indicate that Russia has supplied Assad with chemical weapons. When asked if there was a particularly country that may have supplied Assad with such weapons, Hagel responded, “Well, the Russians supply ’em, others are supplying them with those chemical weapons. They make some themselves.” A Pentagon spokesman clarified his statements later, saying “Secretary Hagel was referring to the well-known conventional arms relationship between Syria and Russia.”
UPDATE: Wednesday, 6:30 p.m. Senate leadership has decided that the resolution to authorize the use of military force in Syria will be treated like any other joint resolution. It will be subject to a cloture motion and, as a result, will require 60 votes to stop debate and procede to a final vote. Final passage of the resolution would still only require 50 votes.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 3:34 p.m. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a resolution authorizing the use of force in Syria in a 10–7 vote with one senator, Democrat Ed Markey of Massachusetts, voting “present.” Five Republicans, including Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, voted against it with two Democrats. Seven Democrats and three Republicans, including John McCain, voted for the resolution.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 3:00 p.m. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed a pair of amendments submitted by Senator McCain to the proposed resolution authorizing intervention in Syria. The first amendment states that “absent decisive changes to the present military balance of power on the ground in Syria, sufficient incentives do not yet exist for the achievement of” a negotiated political settlement which would yield a stable democratic Syria.
The second amendment states: “It is the policy of the United States to change the momentum on the battlefield in Syria so as to create favorable conditions for a negotiated settlement that ends the conflict and leads to a democratic government in Syria.” This amendment moves beyond the Obama Administration’s stated desire to only conduct a limited, punitive strike against the Assad regime for chemical weapons use.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 1:20 p.m. Senator Rand Paul’s staff has confirmed that he will demand a 60 vote threshold to move a Syria war resolution forward.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 12:40 p.m. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee members say that they expect to vote today on their draft resolution authorizing the use of military force in Syria.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 12:09 p.m. A new amendment to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s draft resolution by Senator Rand Paul (R., Ky.) quotes a 2007 interview that President Obama gave the Boston Globe, Reason notes.
“The president does not have the power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” the amendment says, using President Obama’s words.
The amendment cites Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress the power to issue a declaration of war, and says that it is the sense of Congress that “if this authorization fails to pass Congress, the President would be in violation of the Constitution if he were to use military force against the Government of Syria.”
UPDATE: Wednesday, 11:31 a.m. Former Syrian Defense Minister General Ali Habib has defected from the Assad regime and is now in Turkey, Reuters reports . If Habib has defected, it does not necessarily mean he will join or has joined the opposition. An officer in the opposition’s Free Syrian Army said that Habib appeared to have coordinated his defection with the United States.
General Habib is the highest ranking figure of Assad’s Alawite minority to allegedly break with Assad since the civil war began two years ago.
UPDATE: Wednesday, 9:21 a.m. During President Obama’s press briefing this morning in Sweden he said, in reference to his “red line” speech, “I did not set a red line, the world set a red line.” He later said, “my credibility is not on the line, the international community’s credibility is on the line and America and Congress’s credibility is on the line.” The President is in Sweden on the first leg of his three-day trip to Europe to be capped by a G-20 summit in St. Petersburg.
UPDATE: Overnight The draft Senate resolution authorizing U.S. intervention in Syria will allow ninety-days of military action. The new draft of the resolution was agreed to by the Senate Foreign Relations committee after yesterday’s hearing. The resolution sets an initial sixty-day window followed by a possible 30-day extension.
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld critiqued the Obama Administration’s proposed Syrian intervention policy, saying we should either change the regime or do nothing.
Prime Minister David Cameron said that he thinks the Syrian government would use chemical weapons again if the U.S. doesn’t take action. “To ask the president of the United States, having set that red line, having made that warning, to step away from it, ” Cameron said, “I think that would be a very perilous suggestion to make because in response I think you would see more chemical weapons attacks from the regime.”
UPDATE: Tuesday, 4:16 p.m. Another protestor was forcefully removed from the Senate Foreign Relationship Committee room after speaking out against the war and interrupting the hearing.
UPDATE: Tuesday, 3:19 p.m. A protestor was forcefully removed from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Syria as she repeatedly shouted “The American people don’t want this war.” Secretary Kerry conveyed sympathy with those sentiments, without agreeing with the opinion, stating that he had felt much the same way the first time he testified in front of the Senate against the Vietnam War at the age of twenty-seven.
UPDATE: Tuesday, 3:06 p.m. Speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Kerry said that intervention in Syria is not about the president’s red line, claiming such a notion is “just plain and simply wrong.” He continued, “It’s about the world’s red line. It’s about humanity’s red line.”
UPDATE: Tuesday, 2:30 p.m. Two new polls show strong domestic opposition to U.S.-led strikes in Syria.
Gallup finds that a plurality of Americans, 48 percent, are opposed to American airstrikes against Syria. That number includes a plurarility of Republicans (40 percent), Democrats (48 percent), and independents (50). In addition, 48 percent of Americans said that President Obama has not clearly explained why the United States should intervene.
ABC found a majority opposed to unilateral U.S. missile strikes as well as arming opposition forces. Fifty-nine percent of Americans opposed such strikes while a full seventy-percent opposed providing arms.
UPDATE: Tuesday, 1:46 p.m. As the Senate convenes to hold hearings on Syria, President Obama told leaders of Congress that he wants a “prompt” vote authorizing him to use military force in Syria. He also indicated that he is willing to change the language to the resolution he submitted to congress in response to concerns by lawmakers.
UPDATE: Tuesday, 1:01 p.m. Khaled al-Saleh, spokesman of the Syrian National Council, stated that the opposition has intelligence that the Assad regime is preparing for yet another chemical weapons attack. Al-Saleh said that sympathetic officers within the Syrian military informed the opposition that chemical warheads were moved in the last twenty-four hours and have now reached their destination. The spokesman declined discussing specifics about the number or type of chemical warheads because it would compromise the opposition’s sources.
UPDATE: Tuesday, 12:35 p.m. Michael Steel, spokesman for Speaker Boehner, responded to questions following the Speaker’s support for congressional authorization of intervention in Syria, saying
The Speaker offered his support for the president’s call to action, and encourages all Members of Congress to do the same. Now, it is the president’s responsibility to make his case to the American people and their elected representatives. Everyone understands that it is an uphill battle to pass a resolution, and the Speaker expects the White House to provide answers to Members’ questions and take the lead on any whipping effort. All votes authorizing the use of military force are conscience votes for members, and passage will require direct, continuous engagement from the White House.
UPDATE: Tuesday, 11:54 a.m. When asked if he is confident Congress will authorize strikes against Syria, President Obama responded, “I am.” The President made his statement flanked by Speaker Boehner and House Minority Leader Pelosi.
UPDATE: Tuesday, 11:36 a.m. In a statement just released, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor quickly followed Speaker Boehner’s support for Syrian intervention with his own. “I intend to vote to provide the President of the United States the option to use military force in Syria,” Cantor said. “America has a compelling national security interest to prevent and respond to the use of weapons of mass destruction.”
UPDATE: Tuesday, 11:34 a.m. CBS White House correspondent Mark Knoller reports that Speaker Boehner supports military intervention in Syria.
UPDATE: Tuesday, 11:16 a.m. Reuters reports:
UPDATE: Overnight The U.S. and Israel conducted a joint missile test in the Meditarranean. Russia’s defense ministry stated that it detected “ballistic objects,” and while at first there was confusion over the source, Israel claimed responsibility, saying it was carrying out a joint missile test with the United States. Israel’s Defense Minister said the missiles were a “new version of the Sparrow target missiles,” which are defensive.
The United Nations also reported that over 2 million Syrian refugees have fled their war-torn country, along with another 4.25 million who have been displaced from their homes within the country. This total of over 6 million represents nearly a third of Syria’s pre-war population.
Considering the large amounts of Syrian refugees, Sweden announced that it will offer permanent residency to all Syrians who seek asylum. There are currently 8,000 Syrians with temporary residency in Sweden, and they will now be able to remain there permanently and bring their families. Sweden is the first country to open its borders to Syrian refugees to this degree.
President of Syria Bashar Assad gave an interview with Le Figaro in Damascus, translated by the Telegraph, saying that any Western military intervention could lead to “regional war.” He challenged France and the U.S. to provide the “slightest proof” that he used chemical weapons. Mr. Assad also accused President Obama of being a weak leader, saying “If Obama was strong, he would have said publicly: ‘We have no evidence of the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian State.’ He would have said publicly: ‘The only way to proceed is through U.N. investigations. . . . But Obama is weak because hs is facing pressure from within the United States.”
Noam Chomsky, antiwar activist and academic, said that any U.S. led attack on Syria without U.N. approval, regardless of congressional approval, would be a war crime.
UPDATE: Monday, 8:20 p.m British military leaders are being ejected from U.S. meetings on Syria. British officers are no longer being given high-level intelligence because they are no longer involved in the conflict.
UPDATE: Monday, 6:59 p.m. Senators McCain and Graham say President Obama plans to couple military strikes with increased support for opposition forces within Syria. The senators had previously expressed worries that narrow, punitive strikes against Syria without aid to the opposition would be insufficient. However, after meeting with the president in the Oval Office today, Senator McCain said, “we still have significant concerns, but we believe there is in formulation a strategy to upgrade the capabilities of the Free Syrian Army and to degrade the capabilities of Bashar al-Assad.”
UPDATE: Monday, 5:20 p.m. In a 70-minute long conference call to roughly 130 Democrat lawmakers today, Secretary of State Kerry called President Bashar Assad a “two-bit dictator” who will “continue to act with impunity.” He also called on congress to support President Obama’s plan for “limited, narrow” strikes against the Syrian regime. This call is part of the Administration’s ongoing efforts to reach out to lawmakers and build support for intervention in Syria.
UPDATE: Monday, 5:12 p.m. The Syrian U.N. envoy, Bashar Jaafari, wrote a letter calling on the U.N to stop American “aggression” in Syria. He said that the U.S. was “a state that uses force against whoever opposes its politices.” The letter also mirrored the Russian rhetoric, stating that the evidence of chemcial weapons use that America cites as justification for intervention are “old stories fabricated by terrorists.”
UPDATE: Monday, 4:28 p.m. The pro-Assad “Syrian Electronic Army,” which claims credit for taking down the New York Times website last week, attacked the U.S. Marine Corp website, replacing the recruiting page with a message calling Obama a “traitor” and arguing that both Syria and the U.S. face the common enemy of Al-Qaeda. The Marines have successfully regained control of their site and believe no information was stolen.
UPDATE: Monday, 4:11 p.m. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham left their meeting with President Obama today saying that they felt more comfrotable that the White House was developing a Syria plan that they could endorse. This comes after both McCain and Grama expressed worry tthat the military strike in Syria should be more than the “narrow” strike that Obama hinted out, but shold be part of a broader strategy in Syria that did more than punish the regime.
UPDATE: Monday, 3:20 p.m. Senator McCain said today that a vote against President .Obama’s proposal for the use of military force in Syria would be “catastrophic.”
UPDATE: Monday, 2:00 p.m. In an effort to rally congressional support for American intervention against “two-bit dictator” Bashar Assad, John Kerry framed the decision as a “Munich moment” in a conference call with House Democrats this afternoon.
He assured the representatives that not only would France and Israel support U.S. intervention, but that countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates would as well. Even though the British parliament recently voted against a resolution to take military action in Syria, Kerry indicated that the country may “revisit” the possibility if the U.S. were to act first.
According to Politico, while the secretary of state found support from House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, he also got into a “heated exchange” with Representative Rick Nolan of Minnesota over the administration’s evidence that Assad had used the chemical weapons on Syrian civilians.
UPDATE: Monday, 1:36 p.m. Democratic representative Charlie Rangel of New York called President Obama’s “red line” threat against Syrian president Bashar Assad “embarrassing.” “I wish it didn’t happen,” he said.
“I love Obama, and you’ll never find a truer Democrat than me,” Rangel explained on MSNBC this morning. “But this whole idea of any president of the United States drawing lines saying that if any country does something that he considers wrong that the nation is going to war is unheard of.”
Rangel was glad to see President Obama ultimately decided to seek congressional approval, but also hoped that the international community would help find a solution to the Syrian crisis without taking military action.
UPDATE: Monday, 1:05 p.m. A Russian delegation will meet with members of Congress this week to urge against intervention in Syria, according to CNN. Russia, along with China, has used its seat on the United Nations Security Council to block the U.N. from taking action in the war-torn country.
Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of Russia’s upper chamber of parliament, said he hopes the “U.S. Congress will take a balanced position” after meeting with the delegation. He insisted that there were no “strong arguments” for taking action against Syria and hopes both sides will “better understand each other” following the meetings.
UPDATE: Monday, 12:17 p.m. The BBC has put together a graphic of American and French forces that could be used to strike against Syria:
UPDATE: Monday, 11:52 a.m. NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a conference today that he has “concrete information” that the Assad regime is behind the chemical-weapons attack.
“Without going into details, I can tell you that personally I am convinced, not only that a chemical attack has taken place… but I am also convinced that the Syrian regime is responsible,” he said. Rasmussen called for “firm international response” and said not acting would “a dangerous signal to dictators all over the world.”
Rasmussen added that the action needed would be a limited response and not require NATO’s involvement.
UPDATE: Sunday, 5:37 p.m. Following today’s classified Capitol Hill briefing by White House officials, Senator Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, agreed with Leahy’s concerns below about the draft resolution, saying “the president’s request is open-ended” and “that has to be rectified.” He suggested that the White House representatives there had acknowledged this and agreed to rewrite a more limited proposal, but the senator suggested that should probably be the task of the legislature.
The Washington Post has more reactions: A number of House members and Republicans expressed strong skepticism about the authorization, though there was also an indication that they found the evidence presented about chemical-weapons use convincing per se.
Democratic representative Bill Pascrell offered a candid take: “I’m glad I read the documents, it was worth the trip. I haven’t really made up my mind. I’m not trying to be a wise guy, I just haven’t.”
UPDATE: Sunday, 4:22 p.m. Democratic senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, argues that the White House’s draft resolution authorizing military force (summarized below) is too broad and says “I know it will be amended in the Senate.”
UPDATE: Sunday, 12:15 p.m. NBC reports that there will be a classified briefing for members of Congress on Capitol Hill this afternoon to inform them about the situation in Syria. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who have expressed skepticism about the military intervention the president’s currently proposing and would like to see commitment to deposing Assad, will meet with the president on Monday.
UPDATE: Sunday, 10:15 a.m. As a number of network talk shows mentioned Sunday morning, a Syrian state-owned newspaper has labelled the president’s decision to seek congressional approval for military strikes “the start of the historic American retreat.” According to the Syrian state news agency, Syrian U.N. ambassador Bashar Jaafari compared the president and his British counterpart David Cameron to cats who have “climbed to the top of the tree and don’t know how to get down.” Cameron “got down from the tree” by taking the proposal to Parliament and seeing it turned down; Jaafari suggested the president is doing just the same thing.
UPDATE: Sunday, 9:49 a.m. ABC News’s Jonathan Karl reports that the Republican leaders of the House won’t enforce the “Hastert rule” on a Syria vote; the restriction ordinarily means that the House speaker won’t bring to a vote any resolution that doesn’t have majority support in his caucus.
UPDATE: Saturday, 7:42 p.m. The White House has sent a draft of an authorization for the use of military force to Congress, you can read it here. It justifies the request on the premise that the Syrian government killed “more than 1,000 innocent civilians” in a chemical-weapons attack on August 21, which prompts a U.S. military response because of a range of international laws and a congressional statute. It includes no specific limits on the size or scope of strikes, and no time restriction.
The authorization actually implicitly suggests that the use of force won’t aim at removing Assad from power: It reiterates the administration’s position that “the conflict in Syria will only be resolved through a negotiated political settlement” and recommits the U.S. to the Geneva process (a conference the U.S., Russia, and others have been working toward for some time).
It notes that the U.S. and 98 percent of the world’s countries are signatory to a U.N. convention banning chemical weapons (however, Syria is not signatory to it and the convention does not authorize military force to enforce violations), Congress passed a 2005 law asserting that Syria’s possession of weapons of mass destruction threatens “the national security interests of the United States,” and the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution in 2004 declaring that the proliferation of chemical weapons threatens “international peace and security.”
The resolution’s actual authorization is quite short — the president can use military force as he deems necessary and appropriate to “prevent or deter the use or transfer of” chemical or biological weapons “within, to or from Syria,” including to terrorist groups and non-state actors (the likely party in this case being Hezbollah), and to protect the U.S. and its allies from the weapons.
UPDATE: Saturday, 7:32 p.m. NBC News reports that President Obama changed his mind Friday night after a walk on the White House lawn with his chief of staff, Denis McDonough. The decision met opposition from the president’s National Security Council, who were surprised he’d changed his mind on seeking congressional authorization.
According to White House officials, the president’s decision was actually influenced by the failure of British prime minister David Cameron in seeking legislative authorization on Friday, telling his resistant advisers that the debate in the U.K. underscored why he needed authorization and saying that such an approach was most consistent with his philosophy. The report says that White House officials are “fairly confident” that Congress will approve the use of force.
UPDATE: Saturday, 6:33 p.m. A senior State Department official tells Fox News’s James Rosen that, even if Congress doesn’t authorize an attack on Syria, the president will still order strikes on the country. “That’s going to happen anyway,” he told Rosen. Other administration officials were less explicit, merely saying that the possibility would remain open. The president made clear this morning that he would wait for a congressional vote, but said he believed he had the authority to strike without it, as well.
The French president’s office has announced that it will wait until U.S. Congress votes on Syria strikes to take any action it’s considering against the country.
UPDATE: Saturday, 6:29 p.m. Liberal senator Bernie Sanders is skeptical of authorizing the president’s intervention, saying in a statement, “At this point in time, I need to hear more from the president as to why he believes it is in the best interests of the United States to intervene in Syria’s bloody and complicated civil war.”
UPDATE: Saturday, 5:33 p.m. Senior House aides tell Politico that Congress returning before it’s scheduled, for an emergency session to debate Syria, is very unlikely, though Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said “the speaker hasn’t ruled it out.”
UPDATE: Saturday, 5:03 p.m. Secretary of State Kerry will be appearing on all four network Sunday shows and CNN’s State of the Union tomorrow.
UPDATE: Saturday, 4:53 p.m. Just before his speech today, President Obama called French president François Hollande to explain he’d be asking for congressional approval. The French parliament will convene an emergency session on Wednesday to discuss what Hollande has said will be a “firm and proportionate” response to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.
UPDATE: Saturday, 4:40 p.m. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham have announced that they will oppose authorization for an intervention not aimed at toppling the Assad regime. In a response to the president’s call for congressional authorization of a strike, they said, “we cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the President’s stated goal of Assad’s removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict.” They call for Congress to “act as soon as possible,” but say that isolated military strikes such as the president has proposed “would send the wrong signal to America’s friends and allies, the Syrian opposition, the Assad regime, Iran, and the world.”
UPDATE: Saturday, 4:35 p.m. The White House has released a photo of President Obama meeting with the National Security Council this morning to finalize his decisions.
UPDATE: Saturday, 4:30 p.m.: Charles Krauthammer slammed President Obama’s apparent reversal in announcing he’d seek congressional authorization to strike Syria. “This is sort of amateur hour,” Krauthamer said.
UPDATE: Saturday, 4:12 p.m.: Syrian state TV carried President Obama’s speech live.
UPDATE: Saturday, 3:35 p.m.: According to senior administration officials, President Obama’s decision to get congressional approval for a strike on Syria came Friday night. He originally planned to take military action without seeking authorization.
UPDATE: Saturday, 3:00 p.m.: Republican Representative Peter King (N.Y.) released a statement accusing President Obama of “abdicating his responsibility as commander-in-chief and undermining the authority of future presidents” by his decision to seek congressional authorization for the use of force in Syria.
“The president does not need Congress to authorize a strike on Syria,” King said. “If Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians deserves a military response, and I believe it does, and if the president is seeking congressional approval, then he should call Congress back into a special session at the earliest date.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Representative Eliot Engel (N.Y.) released a statement calling on Speaker of the House John Boener (R., Ohio) to recall the House of Representatives from the August recess for a debate.
UPDATE: Saturday, 2:37 p.m.: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement in response to the president’s request for congressional authorization, saying “the president’s role as commander-in-chief is always strengthened when he enjoys the expressed support of the Congress.”
Republican House leaders responded to the president’s request explaining they are “glad the president is seeking authorization for any military action in Syria in response to serious, substantive questions being raised,” and underscoring that “under the Constitution, the responsibility to declare war lies with Congress.” They agreed to consider a measure when Congress returns September 9, and said “this provides the president time to make his case to Congress and the American people.”
UPDATE: Saturday, 1:50 p.m.: President Obama announces that he believes the United States should use military action and that he is “comfortable” moving forward without the approval of the U.N. Security Council. In an afternoon speech at the White House, he explained he will ask Congress for authorization for military strikes when they reconvene in mid September, but he made clear that he believes congressional authorization isn’t necessary.
UPDATE: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.: Senator John Cornyn (R., Texas) says Presdent Obama should recall Congress and ask for a vote on authorization to use military force.
UPDATE: Saturday, 12:45 p.m.: Martin Nesirky, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said that there will be no report on chemical weapons in Syria until lab tests on samples collected by U.N. inspectors are complete.
UPDATE: Saturday, 12:03 p.m.: Arab foreign ministers will meet in Cairo tomorrow to discuss Syria.
UPDATE: Saturday, 11:20 a.m.: Though only senators are being briefed by the administration on Syria today, bipartisan House members will be briefed tomorrow.
UPDATE: Friday, 5:06 p.m.: Speaker Boehner hasn’t ruled out calling Congress back into session on Syria, Michael Steel announced.
UPDATE: Friday, 3:58 p.m.: CBS news reports U.N. inspectors to leave Damascus earlier than expected.
UPDATE: Friday, 2:51 p.m.: Obama stated that he’s ”looking a wide range of options. We’re not considering any boots on the ground approach.” Only looking at a “limited narrow act.”
UPDATE: Friday, 1:58 p.m.: The White house has released a map showing areas in Syria impacted by Chemical Weapons
UPDATE: Friday, 1:54 p.m.: NATO Chief says that the alliance has no plans for military action in Syria.
UPDATE: Friday, 1:30 p.m.: John McCain on Secretary of State Kerry’s briefing:
UPDATE: Friday, 1:29 p.m.: In his briefing Today, Secretary of State Kerry said:
“The United States Government assesses with high confidence that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on August 21, 2013. We further assess that the regime used a nerve agent in the attack. These all-source assessments are based on human, signals, and geospatial intelligence as well as a significant body of open source reporting.”
UPDATE: Friday, 12:52 p.m.: The U.N. chemical weapons investigators will leave Syria tomorrow. As of yet there is no timeline for when their final report will be complete, according to Nick Bryant.
UPDATE: Friday, 11:01 a.m.: Former president George W. Bush said President Obama has a “tough choice” on whether to launch a military attack on Syria. Bush also stated that during his two terms in office he was “not a fan of Mr. Assad.”
UPDATE: Friday, 10:50 a.m.: French president François Hollande announced that France is still ready to take action in Syria alongside the U.S., despite Britain’s decision to not intervene.
UPDATE: Friday, 10:00 a.m.: Prime Minister David Cameron spoke on Friday about Parliament’s vote against intervention in Syria saying, ”I think the American people and president will understand.” He said he didn’t need to apologize to Obama.
UPDATE: Thursday, 5:44 p.m.: British prime minister David Cameron lost a preliminary vote in Parliament authorizing intervention in Syria 285–272. Earlier, an amendment to the motion, authored by the opposition Labour Party, which would have required “compelling evidence” of the use of chemical weapons by governmental forces, failed 332–220.
A senior administration official tells the New York Times that President Obama is willing to move ahead on a military strike on Syria whether or not allies such as Britain decide to join the effort.
Over 170 members of the House of Representatives, including more than 50 House Democrats, are now calling on President Obama to seek congressional approval before a military strike in Syria, in separate letters, the Washington Post reports.
The Security Council meeting Russia called ended after less than an hour on Thursday evening, according to the Washington Post. No progress was made.
President Bashar Assad’s forces have moved Scud missiles from a base near Damascus to a heavily militarized mountain region, Reuters reports, which may be aimed at protecting them from any coming attacks.
President Obama briefed Speaker Boehner on Syria earlier today. At the meeting, the speaker questioned the president on legal justifications for any strike and also called on the president to further consult congress and communicate with the American public, according to Politico.
State Department spokewoman Marie Harf told reporters Thursday that the president “still has not determined a response” for Syrian chemical-weapons use.
Russia called for an urgent meeting of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council on Thursday afternoon to discuss the crisis in Syria, according to the Associated Press.