Chuck Hagel on Syria: ‘Talking to Allies, Talking to Congress’
On the last stop of a trip to four countries in Southeast Asia, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel met with Philippine government and defense leaders and held a press conference in Manila.
The following questions and answers are relevant to the Syrian crisis:
Q: My question is for Secretary Hagel. Sir, is there anything that the Assad regime can do right now to take the military option off the table at this late hour?
SEC. HAGEL: I have not been informed of any change in the Assad regime’s position on any issue. So I deal with the reality of what we have. I don’t speculate on hypothetical situations. I think you know where the United States government is and our analysis of what happened in Syria, as well as most nations of the world condemning the use of chemical weapons and our options as we continue to consult with our allies. We’ll further develop the facts and intelligence on what happened.
Q: Mr. Hagel, first question to you. You said this would be an international collaboration, the potential strikes in Syria, but with Britain voting against a strike, is that still possible? And also, given the British position, do you have a sense that Congress — congressional support for action remains strong? Did you convince them in your call with congressional leaders today?
SEC. HAGEL: Thank you, Julian. Let me take the British piece of the question first. First, every nation has a responsibility to make their own decisions. And we respect that of any nation. We are continuing to consult with the British, as we are with all of our allies and partners, and that consultation includes ways forward together on a response to this chemical weapons attack in Syria.
As to — and I might add one additional piece of the British decision, which I have not seen the specifics of — I’m aware of the vote — the British have been very strong in condemning the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. And that vote in the parliament doesn’t change that. And that’s a very significant position for any nation to take publicly. We’ll continue to work with Britain and consult with Britain, as we are with all our allies.
As to an international effort and collaboration, it is the goal of President Obama and our government to — whatever decision is taken — that it be an international collaboration and effort. I don’t know of many responsible governments around the world, if any, that have not spoken out in violent opposition to use of chemical weapons on innocent people. It violates the very base humanitarian standard of human conduct and governments’ behavior.
So I don’t think there’s any question about that. There are other questions, and legitimate questions. So our approach is to continue to find an international coalition that will act together. And I think you’re seeing a number of countries say publicly — state their position on the use of chemical weapons. We’ll continue to consult with our allies and our partners and friends on this.
As to your question on the Congress, I did participate with some senior members of the Obama administration this morning on an hour-and-a-half conference call with a number of both House and Senate Republican and Democrat leaders on Syria.
First, I — as I did on the conference call — thanked them for their analysis, their thoughts, their time. The Congress, like in any democracy, is important to this process. Their views are critically important. There are many members of the Congress who are very experienced leaders.
So it’s important that we coordinate with the Congress, as we will continue to do. We reach out to get their thoughts on this issue. We will continue to do that.
The objective of the call today was not to convince anyone of anything. The objective was to give the leaders of the Congress an update on our thinking, on where we are on this issue, and just as importantly, seek their advice, seek their opinions on a way forward. Thank you.