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Lawmakers disagree if force is still on table for Syria crisis

Posted at 4:25 PM, Sep 15, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-15 21:14:57-04

WASHINGTON (CNN) — Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said Sunday the threat of U.S. military force in Syria remains, despite a U.S.-Russian agreement to rid Syria of chemical weapons. But Sen. John McCain said the agreement is “meaningless.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced the agreement Saturday in Geneva, Switzerland.

The agreement states Syria must submit a comprehensive list of its chemical weapons stockpile within one week, international inspectors must be on the ground no later than November, and all chemical weapons material must be eliminated by mid-2014.

But the agreement doesn’t specify what sort of ramifications there would be if Syria doesn’t comply. The U.S. and Russia said Syria should be subjected to measures under Chapter VII of the U.N. charter if it fails to honor the agreement. Chapter VII leaves open the possibility of the use of force, but it’s unclear if the U.N. Security Council would support such measures.

For his part, Levin said the U.S. could still use military force if the agreement doesn’t bring about the end of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles.

“Russia has tried very hard, as really their No. 1 or No. 2 goal, to force us to give up the option of using force if Assad does not comply. Russia has failed in that goal. We retain the option of using force if there is not full compliance,” Levin said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

In fact, Levin said, the threat of military action is necessary for the agreement to succeed.

“This would not have happened without that threat, and it will not be fully implemented, I’m afraid, without a continuing threat,” Levin said.

But McCain told reporters the agreement basically has no teeth, because he said there are seemingly no consequences for Syrian inaction.

“It’s meaningless in the respect that there’s no penalty for noncompliance. In fact, Mr. Lavrov went out of his way to say at the announcement of this agreement that there was no agreement on the use of force or sanctions by the United Nations,” McCain said. “So showing that unless Russia agrees, there is no punishment for noncompliance under this agreement for Bashar Assad.”

The U.S. and Russia still need to work with the Security Council to draft a resolution of their agreement, but the five permanent member states appear to be on board with the plan.

While President Barack Obama said in a statement the agreement “represents an important concrete step” forward, he cautioned that the U.S. “remains prepared to act” if the diplomatic option fails.