Kerry: 'Force might be necessary' in Syria

Kerry's comments alongside Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are a direct repudiation of Russian demands that the United States back off its threats. President Vladimir Putin reiterated that position in a New York Times op-ed Wednesday, writing that “we must stop using the language of force.”

“We are serious about engaging in substantive, meaningful negotiations even as our military maintains its current posture to keep up the pressure on the Assad regime,” Kerry said at a press conference in Geneva. “Only the credible threat of force — and the intervention of President Putin and Russia based on that — has brought the Assad regime to acknowledge for the first time that it even has chemical weapons.

“President Obama has made clear that, should diplomacy fail, force might be necessary to deter and degrade Assad's capacity to deliver these weapons.”

Kerry said the administration believes the Russian proposal can work but that it would be an “immense” challenge.

“It's too early to tell whether these efforts will succeed,” he said. “The technical challenges of trying to do this in the context of a civil war are obviously immense. But despite how difficult this is, with the collaboration of our experts — and only with the compliance of the Assad regime — we do believe there is a way to get this done.”

Kerry said diplomacy was Obama's “first resort” and said “achieving a peaceful resolution is clearly preferable to military action.”

He said Russia, in particular, was now under pressure to deliver.

“Expectations are high. They're high for the United States, and perhaps even more so for Russia to deliver on the promise of this moment,” he said. “The words of the Syrian regime, in our judgment, are simply not enough. That's why we have come here in order to work with the Russians … in order to make certain that this can indeed be achieved.”

He went on to lay out a set of conditions for the Obama administration to deem the effort credible and back off its military threat.

“This is not a game,” Kerry said. “It has to be real. It has to be comprehensive. It has to be verifiable. It has to be credible. It has to be timely and implemented in a timely fashion. And finally, there ought to be consequences if it doesn't take place.”

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