Reports that Syrian President Bashar Assad is considering turning over stockpiles of chemical weapons to an international authority should not distract Congress from authorizing U.S. war footing in the region, the Pentagon chief told Congress Tuesday.
Assad reportedly confirmed Tuesday morning that he could abide by a Russian proposal of giving up stockpiles of chemical weapons -- which he will not confirm exist -- with the ultimate goal of destroying them. This came hours before Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel testified before the House Armed Services Committee alongside Secretary of State John Kerry and Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Martin Dempsey.
Multiple senior officials, including President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, expressed skepticism that Assad would follow through on his promise. Hagel told the committee Tuesday morning it should continue to plan for missile strikes.
"All of us are hopeful that this option could be a real solution to this crisis, yet we must be clear-eyed and ensure it is not a stalling tactic by Syria and its Russian patrons," he said. "For this diplomatic option to have a chance of succeeding, the threat of U.S. military action must continue and be very real and credible."
Obama's decision to put the possibility of missile strikes on the table is what enabled this new diplomatic track to gain momentum, Hagel said, adding that support from Congress to hold Assad accountable will give these efforts even more energy and urgency.
Kerry later said, "The president believes we need to keep this threat, this reality, absolutely on the table. He wants the Congress to act."