Kerry returned to D.C. Monday from a weekend trip to the 50th annual Munich Security Conference, where he delivered impassioned remarks about the need for the U.S. and its European allies to step up leadership in threat centers worldwide. The secretary of state has previously expressed outrage at the Syrian regime, particularly following reports last summer that President Bashar Assad had employed chemical weapons against the rebel forces. He has since mirrored Obama’s policy of supporting Syrian rebels at arms length, in keeping with tepid support at home for another American war in the Middle East.
But in a private meeting at a hotel in Munich, Kerry reportedly said Obama’s policy must be more assertive, according Bloomberg News, which is particularly important in the face of a growing threat of Islamic insurgents there and a Russian government that is actively propping up Assad.Bloomberg says it obtained a readout of the meeting from participants Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., both strong proponents for intervention in Syria.
Graham said Kerry gave the indication that the crisis in Syria, which has accounted for more than 130,000 deaths, is slipping out of control. U.S. assistance pales in comparison to arms and money shipments from Russia, Graham said.
“He acknowledged that the chemical weapons [delivery] is being slow-rolled; the Russians continue to supply arms [and that] we are at a point now where we are going to have to change our strategy,” Graham told Bloomberg. “He openly talked about supporting arming the rebels. He openly talked about forming a coalition against al-Qaeda because it’s a direct threat.”
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Bloomberg in response to Kerry’s reported comments that “no one in this Administration thinks we're doing enough until the humanitarian crisis has been solved and the civil war ended.”
“That is no different from the message Secretary Kerry conveyed during the private meeting. The meeting was an opportunity to hear from and engage with members of Congress and it is unfortunate that his comments are being mischaracterized by some participants,” she said.
In joint remarks with Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Kerry asserted publicly Sunday that the U.S. is not withdrawing from anywhere in the world, despite criticism to the contrary.
“I can’t think of a place in the world where we’re retreating,” he said, according to The New York Times.
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Yet in his opening statement on Saturday, Kerry listed Syria as one of the greatest threats facing the U.S. and Europe and called for greater assistance to quell “the number of jihadists who are attracted by the magnet of the Assad regime to Syria.”
“Turning inward is not an option for any of us,” he said. “When we lead together, others will join us. But when we don’t, the simple fact is few are willing or prepared to step up.”
“And leading, I say respectfully, does not mean meeting in Munich for good discussions. It means committing resources, even in a difficult time, to make certain we are helping countries to fight back against the complex, vexing challenges of our day,” he said.
The next steps for Syria include forcing Assad to follow through on a chemical weapons agreement brokered through the Russian government. Regime forces so far have missed multiple deadlines for delivering all chemical weapons stockpiles out of Syria to be destroyed at sea.