Sen. John McCain on Sunday threw cold water on the deal the United States and Russia have struck to dismantle the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stores by 2014, arguing it does nothing to keep the use of force on the table and help the rebels topple an Assad regime accused of gassing its own people.
Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican and a defense hawk who’s called for more forceful action in Syria, said the agreement went soft on Syrian President Bashar Assad despite tough talk from President Obama in the wake of an Aug. 21 chemical attack on civilians near Damascus.
“And by the way, they didn’t even assign blame for this attack,” Mr. McCain told NBC’s ” Meet the Press.” “In fact, [Russian President Vladimir] Putin in his op-ed piece — a stirring piece — said that it was the rebels, it was the Free Syrian Army that committed this. There is not a seriousness on the part of the Russians.”
Mr. Putin’s op-ed article last week in The New York Times chided Americans for believing they are “exceptional,” a move that irked U.S. lawmakers from both parties.
Observers have criticized Mr. Obama for letting Mr. Putin take the driver’s seat after days of tough talk about a U.S. military strike on the region. However, it became clear that such a strike was not supported by the majority of Americans and that Mr. Obama did not have the support of lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Ultimately, Mr. McCain said, the Americans did not strike a winning deal with the Russians.
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“I think it’s a loser, because I think it gave Russia a position in the Middle East which they haven’t had since 1970,” he told NBC. “We are now depending on the good will of the Russian people if Bashar Assad violates this agreement. And I am of the firm belief, given his record, that is a very, very big gamble.”
Sen. Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, offered a more nuanced assessment of the deal. He told NBC it is a “diplomatic breakthrough that is full of opportunity and fraught with danger.”
“The opportunity is that we actually end up in a better place than we envisioned with the use of force, which is the elimination of all of Assad’s chemical weapons and his production facilities; in essence, closing down these factories of death,” he said.
He said the “fraught part” is that Mr. Assad has not signed on to the deal, so the use of U.S. military might should remain on the table.