President Obama's chemical weapons deal with Syria has “improved” Syrian President Bashar Assad's position, Secretary of State John Kerry acknowledged Wednesday.
Kerry's admission comes after Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told Congress last week the deal “adds legitimacy” to the Assad regime, even as it has the potential to eliminate a threat to the U.S. The deal is coming under fire, after Syria blew crucial deadlines in recent weeks, turning over only about 5 percent of its arsenal.
The Assad regime has until June 30 to eliminate the program.
Kerry disputed criticism that Obama's Syria policy is failing.
“No, the policy in Syria is just very challenging and very difficult,” he said. “And we know that.”
According to Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Kerry himself shared his frustration with them on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich last weekend.
Kerry has contradicted his former colleagues. On Wednesday, he called the chemical weapons deal “a significant milestone,” which he said “eliminated a critical, grotesque tool that [Assad] was willing to use ruthlessly against his own people.”
Beyond providing nonlethal assistance to the Syrian rebels, Kerry said the U.S. will explore other avenues to help bring an end to the Syrian civil war, such as working more with Congress and Russia.
Obama, Kerry added, is always re-evaluating the strategy in Syria.
“[Obama] is looking now, increasingly, at everybody's growing concerns about the number of outside, foreign fighters, terrorists, who are entering into Syria, some of whom are now even threatening the United States of America,” Kerry said.