September 16, 2013

Obama authorizes chemical weapons aid to Syria

President Obama has signed a waiver allowing the U.S. government to provide chemical weapons-related gear to some Syrian rebels and groups working in the country.

The designation Obama signed waives certain arms control restrictions and allows the U.S. to provide "certain non-lethal assistance," including chemical weapons related personal protective equipment to international organizations, including the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the White House said.

It also permits chemical weapons related "life saving assistance" for organizations that work with the State Department or USAID programs that help local Syrian health care providers prepare for and respond to chemical weapons. Also on the list, chemical weapons protection related training and personal protective equipment to "select vetted members of the Syrian opposition, including the Supreme Military Council to protect against chemical weapons."

The waiver comes nearly a month after the U.S. says a suspected chemical attack killed more than 1,000, including 400 children -- and as the US and Russia hammer out a deal that would impose international control of Syria's chemical weapons cache.

September 15, 2013

Obama defends handling of Syria, says of Putin: "This is not the Cold War"

President Obama defended his administration's handling of the Syria crisis, saying the world is now in a "better position" and that he's more concerned with policy than style.

Obama's handling of the situation has come under fire from critics who say he's appeared indecisive and all over the map, but Obama in an interview on ABC's This Week said he's been consistent about wanting to punish the Syrian regime for the use of chemical weapons. 

"Folks here in Washington like to grade on style," Obama said. "So had we rolled out something that was very smooth and disciplined and linear they would have graded it well, even if it was a disastrous policy. We know that, ’cause that’s exactly how they graded the Iraq War until it ended up blowing up in our face."

He also said he can work with Russian President Vladimir Putin -- but that like everything with Russia, it needs to be verified. He said it's possible the two could bring about a resolution to Syria, though he said Putin doesn't have the "same values" as those in the U.S.

"I think there’s a way for Mr. Putin, despite me and him having a whole lot of differences, to play an important role," Obama said. "I welcome him being involved. I welcome him saying, 'I will take responsibility for pushing my client, the Assad regime to deal with these chemical weapons.' "

Continue reading "Obama defends handling of Syria, says of Putin: "This is not the Cold War"" »

September 12, 2013

Pelosi's wary view of Putin

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi's take on Russian President Vladimir Putin's New York Times op ed?

"It is what it is.  I mean, Vladimir Putin is not in a strong constitutional democracy where people have their say so he comes here and has his say, but it has to have some fidelity to fact," the California Democrat told a news conference.

She was asked if it was frustrating that Putin may be the United States' negotiating partner.

"I mean, (Syrian President Bashar) Assad is a part of the negotiation, too, and he is, I think, clearly a monster who would gas children in his own country that he wants to preside ove," she said.

Pelosi pointed to Putin's remark that he doesn't want the United Nations turning into another League of Nations.

"I thought that was interesting, because one of the reasons the United Nations has not been effective, say for example in Syria, is because of the fear of a Russian veto," she said. "Even initiatives that others have tried to propose that would, say, condemn the use of chemical weapons, they have not been willing to sign on to. 

"So, part of the strength of the U.N. is the fact that it has a strong Security Council.  Part of the lack of success is that Russia and China too frequently use that veto power.  But what I have found interesting was the closing.  He says when we pray to God he judges us all.  I don't know exactly what his words are, but he says that we are all God's children.  I think that is great.  I hope it applies to gays and lesbians in Russia as well."


Obama says he's "hopeful" about Geneva talks

President Barack Obama said Thursday that he hopes that his Secretary of State John Kerry has fruitful discussions witt his Russian counterpart on the crisis in Syria in Geneva today.

“John Kerry is overseas and meeting on the topic that we spent a lot of time on over the last several weeks, the situation in Syria and how we can make sure that chemical weapons are not used against innocent people," Obams said before a Cabinet meeting. "I am hopeful that the discussions that Secretary Kerry has with Foreign Minister Lavrov as well as some of the other players in this can yield a concrete result and I know that he is going to be working very hard over the next several days over the possibilities there.”

But Obama also said that he has many other issues to tend to, including the budget, health care law and rewriting the nation's immigration laws.

“It is still important to recognize that we have a lot of things left to do here in this government," he said. "The American people are still interested in making sure that our kids are getting the kind of education they deserve, that we are putting people back to work. That we are dealing properly with a federal budget, that bills are being paid on time, that the full faith and credit of the United States is preserved and that the federal government itself in every single agency, running the way it should, making sure that our constituents, the American people, are getting good service.”

Congress' Syria vote unlikely to have much election impact, poll finds

If Congress votes on Syria, the vote is unlikely to affect the 2014 election, according to a new United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection poll.

"Most voters wouldn't care enough either way to throw their representative out of office," according to a poll analysis.

The survey found that 55 percetn said that if their representative voted for a military strike, it wouldn't affect whether or not they backed the member's re-election.

"That's a testament to the issue's overhyped political implications, despite this month's fervent public debate over its merits," the analysis said.

"In any case, President Obama's decision Tuesday night to delay the vote while he seeks a diplomatic solution to Syria's use of chemical weapons might make the point moot. Despite the public's apathy, many lawmakers had already declared they would not support the resolution, and it looked to face long odds in the House."

Those who did back the strike did say it make them less likely to support their representative, as 13 percent said a yes vote would make them more likely to back the incumbent, while 26 percent said it would make them less likely to support them.

To read more:

September 11, 2013

Senate moves away from Syria debate--for now

The Senate is turning to energy legislation--no more Syria debate Wednesday.

That could change, but as long as the United States is seeking a diplomatic breakthrough, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said the Senate would move on to other business.

"Congress will be watching these negotiations very closely," he said.

"If there is any indication they're not serious or there is any indication they're not serious or they're being used as a ploy to delay, then Congress stands ready to return to that Syria resolution to give the president the authority to hold the Assad regime accountable for the pain, suffering and death he caused with those chemical weapons."

Americans paying more attention to Syria, Gallup finds

Syria has crept onto the list of issues that most concern Americans, but it's in fifth place, well behind the ecnoomy and other matters.

A Sept. 5-8 Gallup poll found the economy remains the issue people consider most important. Trailing are unemployment, dissatisfaction with the government, and health care. Then comes Syria, at 8 percent.

"While the actions the U.S. will take, if any, in response to allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria remain unclear, Americans are starting to pay attention," according to a Gallup analysis.

"Seventy-one percent last week told Gallup they were following the news about Syria closely, and it now ranks as one of the top five problems facing the country, although still lagging behind concerns about the economy, government, and healthcare. Whether the sudden spike in concern over this issue is due more to the Syrian government's supposed use of chemical weapons or the possibility of a military response by the U.S. government is not certain.

"Meanwhile, worry over the economy appears to be receding. The 48% who name an economic issue as most important problem is down from 63 percent in the first month of this year. And, as Congress reconvenes to debate issues related to the nation's debt and deficit, anxiety related to these issues has fallen dramatically -- though this could change if a legislative stalemate again raises the threat of governmental shutdown or a national debt default."

Americans worried about being drawn into a deeper conflict

Americans are wary of the United States acting as the world's policeman, according to a new poll.

A United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection survey found half were concerned the U.S. would be drawn more deeply into a conflict with Syria.

"The results show a nation wary of further entanglements 12 years removed from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and after the prolonged military conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The survey also shows that Republicans, long the nation's more hawkish party, are now among those most skittish of further interventions abroad," according to a poll analysis.

"That can be partly explained away by the fact that President Obama, a Democrat, is leading the current call for strikes against Syria. But it is also evidence that the libertarian, noninterventionist wing within the GOP is growing at the grassroots level. It is tension likely to play out in the 2016 Republican presidential primary."

To read the poll results and analysis:

September 09, 2013

Obama's public relations blitz on Syria

As Congress returned to Capitol Hill Monday, President Barack Obama pressed forward with an aggressive lobbying blitz to persuade lawmakers and the American people to back a proposal to use military force in Syria.

Obama is sitting for half-dozen TV interviews with the major news networks in advance of his prime-time address Tuesday night from the White House. He will meet with Senate Republicans Tuesday at the Capitol. 

White House spokesman Jay Carney said it's understandable that the public and lawmakers are "weary and wary of military engagement" after the United States' pro-longed involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last dozen years.

Continue reading "Obama's public relations blitz on Syria" »

GOP Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri to vote against Syrian strike

Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri has decided he won't vote to support a military strike in Syria. The U.S. Senate is expected to vote on the matter later this week.

Blunt is a member of the Senate leadership as the vice chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, and also serves as a member of the GOP's Whip Team in the Senate.

Here is Blunt's full statement:

“Assad’s chemical attacks on his own people were abhorrent, and I join the President in condemning his actions.

“It is clear that the Administration’s policies toward Syria have not worked.  The refugee problem has destabilized the region, and the addition of outside radical groups increases the likelihood of long-term danger for Syrians and their neighbors.

“During the first months of the insurgency, I believed that we could and should assist in establishing a safe zone for refugees and those challenging Assad.  This is a position I publicly held as late as March of this year, but the longer these things are allowed to drag on in the Middle East, the harder they are to impact in a positive way.

“I respect the President’s responsibilities as Commander in Chief.  In this case, the President has asked the Congress to support very specific tactics and strategies.  He has asked Congress to endorse a ‘shot across the bow’ and has said that Assad will stay in place while a political solution is sought, which stands in contrast to his statement more than two years ago that Assad must ‘step aside.’ 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.

“After careful consideration and a number of briefings on this topic, I believe this strategy and the unknown response it may provoke are the wrong thing to do, and I will not support the resolution the President has asked for.”



"Planet Washington" covers politics and government. It is written by journalists in McClatchy's Washington Bureau.

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