White House national security spokesman Ben Rhodes reacts to Syria's statement—prompted by Russia's foreign minister, who was prompted by Secretary of State John Kerry—that it would be willing to hand over its chemical weapons to the international community:
We'll obviously have to take a look at it. Any transfer of Syrian weapons to international control would obviously be a positive development, but we have been highly skeptical of the statements out of the Syrian government on chemical weapons to date. They have not even declared their chemical weapons stockpiles. They've used chemical weapons in violation of international prohibitions. So we'd be very skeptical, and we'd want to make sure that there was a verification mechanism to make sure that they're following through on any commitment they make.While Rhodes said the administration would look at what the possibility of Syria relinquishing its chemical weapons cache, he also said the administration would continue to seek congressional authorization to attack Syria in the event Assad refuses to give up his chemical arsenal:
We're only having this discussion in the context of the threat of U.S. action. And what's clear is the threat of U.S. action, the credible threat of U.S. military action is what is bringing forward these types of ideas. That makes it all the more important that we don't let the pressure off, that we continue to make there are going to be consequences for Assad for his use of chemical weapons.But at the same time, Rhodes said, the administration would continue to talk with Russians about Syria handing over control of its chemical weapons:
Well, we'll have to have those discussions with Russians and others, of course. For a long time, we've said that we'd like to see Syria's chemical weapons declared, and of course we'd like to see them transferred under international control. The problem has been the Syrian government has been wholly uncooperative.You don't really need to read between the lines much here: Rhodes essentially is saying that if Syria gives up control of its chemical weapons in a verifiable fashion, the threat of military force will have achieved its goal—without military force actually being used. Therefore, he says, it's important for the U.S. to be able to make credible threats of military force. Of course, the flip side of this is that making a credible threat means that if Syria refuses to give up its arsenal, then U.S. would use military force against Syria.