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WASHINGTON – Russians liked an offer by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the United States would not bomb Syria if the country put its chemical weapons under international control, but then the statement was dismissed by the State Department as a “rhetorical argument,” causing skeptics to suggest the true intent of the U.S. in Syria is regime change and to limit Iran’s influence in the Middle East.
Officials in the State Department backtracked on Kerry’s statements even after they were accepted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
And that could prompt concern on the part of the Russians as to what the true intent of the U.S. would be in bombing Syria. Sources suggest some of those concerns could include whether the ultimate desire of the U.S. is to seek regime change in Damascus and to limit Iran’s influence in the Middle East region.
Part of the confusion stems from the State Department itself, which first said Kerry was speaking rhetorically. Then a spokesman later backtracked on that initial reaction and said it would take a “hard look” at the Russian statement but added that there remained skepticism since Syria hasn’t lived up to its other agreements.
Meantime, former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that Syria’s surrendering chemical weapons would be an “important step” in averting a U.S. military strike. She made the comments following a meeting she had at the White House on Monday.
“If the (Syrian) regime immediately surrenders its stockpiles to international control, as was suggested by Secretary Kerry and the Russians, that would be an important step,” Clinton said.
“It is important to note that this discussion that has taken hold today about potential international control of Syria’s stockpiles only could take place in the context of a credible military threat by the United States to keep pressure on the Syrian government, as well those supporting Syria, like Russia.
“I will continue to support the president’s efforts and I hope that the Congress will as well,” she added. “The Assad regime’s inhumane use of weapons of mass destruction…demands a strong response from the international community led by the United States.”
Lavrov had endorsed Kerry’s statements made at a London news conference earlier Monday.
“On September 9, in Moscow we had talks with Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem,” Lavrov said. “After the talks, we learnt that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had said that military strikes on Syria could be prevented if Bashar Assad handed over chemical weapons stock.
“We do not know whether the Syrian government will agree to do so, but if international control over Syria’s chemical arsenal helps avoid military strikes we shall without delay start working with Damascus,” he said.
“We call on the Syrian government to hand over chemical weapons stockpiles, agree to their consequent destruction and become a full-fledged member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
“We have already passed this proposal to Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid Muallem who is now staying in Moscow,” he added. “We expect a prompt and positive response.”
Hours later, al-Muallem said that Syria welcomes Russia’s proposal of placing its chemical weapons under international control.
“I state that the Syrian Arab Republic welcomes the Russian initiative, motivated by the Syrian leadership’s concern for the lives of our citizens and the security of our country, and also motivated by our confidence in the wisdom of the Russian leadership, which is attempting to prevent American aggression against our people,” al-Mouallem said.
Kerry’s proposal came as he and other Obama administration officials were traveling around Europe seeking support for a “limited” U.S. bombing of Syria’s chemical weapons capability following a Sarin attack on Aug. 21 in a Syrian opposition-held region on the outskirts of Damascus. The attack, the source of which is subject of heated debate, killed 1,429, including more than 400 children.
The U.S. and other Western countries claim the Syrian government used poison gas on its own citizens.
In continuing to press for U.S. bombing of Syria, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, however, has raised questions over the Russian acceptance of Kerry’s proposal, saying that she previously had exhausted all options short of military action.
“Failing to respond to the use of chemical weapons risks opening the door to other weapons of mass destruction and emboldening the madmen who would use them,” said Rice, who formerly was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
It was while she held that position that she declared on nationwide television that the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consular facilities in Benghazi was prompted by a video released in the U.S. that mocked Mohammad.
“We cannot allow terrorists bent on destruction, or a nuclear North Korea, or an aspiring nuclear Iran, to believe for one minute that we are shying away from our determination to back up our longstanding warnings,” she added. “Failing to respond to this brazen attack could indicate the United States is not prepared to use the full range of tools necessary to keep our nation secure.”
It is this line of talk, sources tell WND, that suggests the true intent of bombing Syria may not be just about chemical weapons after all.