Cumberland Times-News

September 9, 2013

Sen. Manchin opposes military strike on Syria

Elaine Blaisdell
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin is opposed to a military strike against Syria and instead has introduced a joint resolution with U.S. Sen. Heidi Hetikamp of North Dakota.

“I don’t believe there is an imminent threat to America and I don’t believe that military strike is the right form of action at this time,” said Manchin during a conference call Monday.

The Chemical Weapons Control and Accountability resolution of 2013 requires Syria to sign and comply with the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention within 45 days. Syria did sign the 1925 Geneva protocol, which prohibits the use of chemical weapons. Manchin stressed that the Chemical Weapons Convention goes much further than the Geneva convention.

The chemical convention aims to “eliminate an entire category of weapons of mass destruction by prohibiting the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, retention, transfer, or use of chemical weapons by States Parties ...”  Not everyone has signed that 1993 treaty, however; Syria, North Korea, Egypt and Angola are notable omissions, according to The Washington Post.

“The failure by the government of Bashar al-Assad to sign and comply with the Convention clearly demonstrates a willful disregard of international norms on the use of chemical weapons and if the Government of Syria does not sign and comply with the Convention within 45 after the date of the enactment of this resolution, all elements of national power will be considered by the United States government,” states the draft resolution.

Manchin explained that if al-Assad doesn’t comply with the resolution he could face “whatever action is deemed necessary and appropriate.”

After attending various hearings regarding Syria and speaking with both current and former military diplomats, Manchin thinks the resolution is the best option.

“I think this is most reasonable approach. I hope the White House looks at this as a viable option,” said Manchin. “This is the biggest decision in my public political role that I have ever had to make and I didn’t take it lightly. Cooler and calmer heads have got to prevail and see the large picture of how to bring some type of peace to the world. Spending money is not the answer.”

Manchin attended hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, of which he is a member, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committees to hear state secretaries Chuck Hagel and John Kerry, and Gen. Martin Dempsey testify. Manchin also had classified briefings by the administration and met with national security and foreign policy experts from the leading think tanks and universities around the country.

“I believe that we must exhaust all diplomatic options and have a comprehensive plan for international involvement before we act,” said Manchin in a statement he released Thursday.

The resolution calls for President Barack Obama to submit to Congress a long-term strategy for Syria no later than 45 days after the enactment of the resolution. In the interim it calls for him to use all appropriate diplomatic tools to develop and secure commitments from the international community with the shared strategic interest of preventing the proliferation and use of Syria’s chemical weapons.

“I think the president will listen to the representatives of the people,” said Manchin during the conference call. “I want to see the civil war come to an end and I want to secure all of the chemical weapons that guided us to the brink of putting our finger on the trigger.”

Manchin noted that he has received 4,000 messages from people in West Virginia and that less than 50 percent are concerned about a military strike or are in support of it.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov of Russia, one of the strongest supporters of the al- Assad regime, urged Syria to comply with Secretary of State John Kerry’s suggestion to hand the chemical weapons over to international community, according to the Wall Street Journal. Kerry is giving them seven days to see if the weapons are destroyed, according to Manchin.

“That’s at least a step in the right direction,” said Manchin.

Bashar al-Assad has denied responsibility for the chemical weapons incident that occurred Aug. 21 outside Damascus that left more than 1,400 people dead. The Syrian president warned Monday in an interview with CBS that his country would lash out in potentially unpredictable ways if struck over a chemical weapon attack, saying the West does not have "a single shred of evidence" to prove the claim his government was responsible, according to CNN.

“There is no doubt that an attack occurred and there is no doubt it was produced under the Assad regime,” said Manchin. “It’s not clear cut if Assad gave the order himself. It has not been proven.”

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.