Sen. Casey: Military Force Should Still Be An Option In Syria

Audie Cornish talks with Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, about the latest developments on U.S.-Syria policy.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Joining us now is Senator Bob Casey Jr., Democrat from Pennsylvania. He's part of that bipartisan group of senators working on a new resolution that would involve the U.N. Security Council. Senator, welcome to the program.

SENATOR ROBERT CASEY JR.: Good to be with you. Thank you.

CORNISH: So this proposal that you're working on with this group of senators would essentially give the president authorization to use military force against Syria, but with some very specific caveats. Talk about what they are.

JR.: Well, here's what I would hope could happen in the Senate: I want to make sure that anything we do that we maintain a credible use of - or the - an authorization for the use of military force to make sure that even though we're considering other options here that it's very clear that we have the authorization for force. But that could be conditioned by a set of benchmarks that the Syrian government would have to meet.

And they would have to be - they would have to meet conditions within a very short timeframe, not weeks but days, but have enough time for them to be able to not only identify but have all of their chemical weapons removed from the country and come under control of the international community.

CORNISH: Now, at the same time, though, Russia President Vladimir Putin today said that in order for any of these diplomatic efforts to work, the American side and those who support the USA, he says, have to reject the use of force altogether, that this threat can't be hanging alongside a diplomatic effort.

JR.: Well, I'll speak for myself with regard to what Mr. Putin said and his foreign minister, Mr. Lavrov. That's a nonstarter for me. The only reason why the Russian Federation and the Syrian regime is even willing to talk about a proposal - or to put a proposal on the table to be considered is because there is a threat of the use of force. And to say that somehow, you know, that threat has to be removed before we consider the proposal they put on the table is kind of ridiculous. So I hope that's just a rhetorical stance that they're taking, and that they would get serious about what is a grave threat to the international community, and that's chemical weapons.

CORNISH: What's a reasonable timeline for any of these diplomatic efforts? At what point is - does this feel like delay or stalling by Syria or Russia?

JR.: No. That's why you have to - and we don't have an agreement yet, but I hope that if we can reach an agreement in the Senate that it is set forth in a matter of days, that that's a reasonable timeframe.

CORNISH: Senator Casey, what does the president need to say tonight to convince voters who are growing more and more skeptical of involvement, especially given all these diplomatic efforts and these new kinds of twists and turns of the day sort of complicate the message? You're asking both to maintain a threat of a strike and also take the time to go through a diplomatic effort.

JR.: I think the main thing the president has to do is outline our national security interest and why we're even having a debate about this.

CORNISH: Do you think that's been unclear?

JR.: Well, I think there's more work to be done. Just like I and other members of Congress who believe that we should have an authorization, we all need to make it very clear what our security interests are. And that starts with chemical weapons, future use against Americans, but also the potential for use in the near term against our troops, our military personnel in the region, against our diplomats...

CORNISH: But these are things he has said before. I mean, do you think there is a way to - is there something else to be said here that would make a difference?

JR.: Well, we all need repetition. Everybody gets busy. We need repetition on that. But also, I think a point that hasn't been developed and a point that I made today in the meeting we have with the president was that I don't think the point has been made clearly enough about our national security interest as it relates to Iran and Hezbollah right now, the current threat they pose and the greater threat they would pose with a green light to use not just chemical weapons but to engage in even further terrorist activities, and the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program, which is something we have to take steps to prevent.

We've had a lot of concern expressed about not getting bogged down in a war or not putting our efforts on a pathway that leads to something that would in any way put American lives at risk. I think not acting puts American lives at risk. I think acting greatly reduces the chances that these weapons can ever be used against Americans.

CORNISH: That's Senator Bob Casey Jr., a Democrat from Pennsylvania. Senator, thank you so much for speaking with us.

JR.: Thank you.

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