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John Kerry's me-and-my-big-mouth solution on Syria

September 09, 2013|By Paul Whitefield
  • Britain Foreign Secretary William Hague, left, looks on as Secretary of State John F. Kerry speaks at a news conference in London on Monday.
Britain Foreign Secretary William Hague, left, looks on as Secretary of… (WPA Pool / Getty Images )

One minute, you’re just talking out of your hat. The next, you’re a diplomatic genius.

Or, as John F. Kerry is probably thinking right now: me and my big mouth.

In London on Monday, the secretary of State, asked how Syrian President Bashar Assad could avoid a U.S.-led a military strike, said somewhat facetiously: “Turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community, in the next week -- turn it over, all of it.”

Kerry added: “But he isn’t about to do it, and it can't be done, obviously.”

But the strangest thing has happened: People, important people, have taken him seriously.

Seemingly no sooner were the words out of Kerry’s mouth than Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking in Moscow, seconded the idea that Syria could put its chemical weapons under international supervision.

“We are calling on the Syrian authorities [to] not only agree on putting chemical weapons storages under international control, but also for its further destruction and then joining the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” Lavrov said, referring to the international body that implements the Chemical Weapons Convention, agreed to by 189 nations, not including Syria.

Then, U.N. Secretary-General General Ban Ki-Moon signed on. "I welcome these ideas," Ban told reporters, saying that he was also “considering urging the Security Council to demand the immediate transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons and chemical precursor stocks to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed.”

And finally, the Syrian government itself got on board:

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem told reporters in Moscow:

“I declare that the Syrian Arab Republic welcomes Russia's initiative, on the basis that the Syrian leadership cares about the lives of our citizens and the security in our country. We are also confident in the wisdom of the Russian government, which is trying to prevent an American aggression against our people.”

If this were a movie, no one would believe it. Undoubtedly Kerry doesn't believe it; who knows what his boss back in Washington is thinking.

But now the ball is back in President Obama's court. Kerry wasn’t in London to seek a diplomatic solution but rather to shore up support for a military strike on Syria. And Obama is scheduled to go on national TV on Tuesday to lay out the case for a strike. Only polls show that Americans are increasingly against such an option.

All of which means that a lot of people in the Obama administration -- from the president to the secretary of State to the poor guy who’s writing Obama’s Tuesday night speech -- are scrambling right now.

The biggest problem? Kerry may have been just shooting his mouth off, but he may well have shot the administration’s military plan in the foot. Syria turning over its chemical weapons to a third party seems to be a reasonable solution to this crisis. If the Russians -- Syria’s allies who are protecting them in the United Nations -- are on board, and so is the United Nations itself, and most Americans don’t want any part of Syria and another Middle East conflict, then what's not to like?

It's unclear what the Obama administration will do; obviously, when diplomacy is seemingly being made up as you go along, anything can happen.

But heck, as John Lennon once said: Why not give peace a chance?


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