Middle East/North Africa

Kerry: I wasn’t undercut by move to consult Congress on Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday rejected suggestions his strong advocacy for punishing Syria’s regime for using chemical weapons was undercut by President Obama’s surprise decision to first seek congressional approval.

{mosads}Kerry’s Sunday appearances on five news shows found the secretary of State repeatedly challenging the very premise of questions from hosts who say his advocacy for quick action was laid aside by the White House.

“Wrong,” Kerry bluntly told CBS’s Major Garrett when asked whether Kerry was “disappointed” that his call for swift action was “overridden.”

“I did not advocate that the response had to be swift. In fact, I often said that we needed to take time to do certain things,” said Kerry.

After “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace said Kerry had made a “powerful call” on Friday for “quick action,” Kerry retorted: “Chris, I made a powerful call for action. I never mentioned the word quick. I made the case for why we needed to take action.”

On Sunday, Kerry repeatedly praised Obama’s decision to seek congressional approval. 

He said on the shows that it would provide a stronger, more unified national response and enable more time to coordinate with allies, among other benefits.

ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked if Kerry had any idea, during his Friday presentation, that Obama was going to “hit the pause button.”

“Well, the president hadn’t made any decision on the military strike, George,” Kerry responded. “I was asked to make the case for why we needed to take action, but the president always maintained the prerogative as to when or what he decided to do.”

Over at NBC, Kerry pushed back when “Meet The Press” host David Gregory asked if he felt “undermined” personally and whether U.S. credibility had taken a hit when Obama delayed what had appeared to be an imminent strike.

Gregory also said that NBC’s reporting showed that Kerry and other members of Obama’s security team were opposed to going to Congress.

“David, I completely disagree with the fundamental premise that you set out,” Kerry said.

“No, I did not oppose going, nor did anybody else that I know of originally. The issue originally was, ‘Should the President of the United States take action in order to enforce the credibility and the interest of our country and to deter Assad from using these weapons and to degrade his capacity to do so?,’ ” Kerry said, according to an NBC transcript.

“That was the issue. And that’s the issue that we debated. There was no decision not to do that.” 

Some critics of Obama’s handling of the Syria situation expressed empathy for Kerry.

Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), who accused Obama of abdicating responsibility by requesting congressional approval of a strike against Syria, told Fox’s Wallace: “First I felt bad for Sen. Kerry having to defend the indefensible”

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