Meet the Press   |  September 15, 2013

McCain: Syria deal an 'act of provocative weakness'

Sen. John McCain of Arizona visits Meet the Press to discuss the current negotiations with Syrian President Bashar Assad and the senator's opinions on the conflict.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> joining me now senator john mccain , republican from arizona, member of the armed services committee as you know, one of the most outspoken voices in the senate about u.s. policy in syria which is why i wanted to you here, senator. look where we've gone in a week. i've talked to the chief of staff at the white house . he says, look, russia was not on board a week ago. assad denied even having chemical weapons a week ago. and now they're both on board to destroy these weapons and yet you've called this deal a act of provocative weakness, why?

>> well, if -- suppose that this deal is made and then bashar al assad does not comply and continues, by the way, the slaughter of over 100,000 , the problem by the way in syria is not chemical weapons although as horrible as they are, the 100,000 that verizon been killed but suppose that he doesn't comply. they go to the u.p.s. let me give you the quote from mr. lavrov. he said, "nothing is said about the use of force or sanctions." so they go to the united nations . it's clear they would veto again. it is now in the hands of russia to decide whether bashar al assad is really complying or not.

>> can i ask you then how might we be in the united states in a different position if the goal -- if the goal was to prevent him from ever using chemical weapons again? i realize your deal is different. work with me. don't use chemical weapons again how might the situation have been different had the president stayed on course and been bombing by now.

>> of course, the president probably wouldn't have been bombing and if it had been an unbelievably small attack, i'm not sure --

>> secretary kerry said --

>> how often difference it would make. no's not scary and unbelievably small attack. the point is if the agreement had said that there will be the use of force automatically or the russians had agreed that they could go under chapter 7 to the united nations security council , that puts an entirely different cast on it. right now it's up to the russians to decide that. and, by the way, they didn't even assign blame for this attack. in fact, putin and his op-ed piece, stirring piece said that it was a rebels, it was the free syrian army that committed this. there is not a seriousness on the part of the russians , and, again, here we are going to see if it works we're going to see the russians facilitating the departure of chemical weapons while planeload after planeload of russian aircraft coming into damascus full of weapons and devices to kill syrians of which there is over 100,000 . whatever happened to the president's red line where he said, if they use these chemical weapons , whether we will respond and --

>> okay, but as you know i think the president would say to you, okay, the reality is that red line was to prevent him from using weapons and we have the prospect here even if we don't completely trust the russians of getting to a point where he no longer has weapons. why shouldn't that be seen as victory?

>> it's not a matter of trust. it's a matter of whether it will be enforced or not when the -- mr. lavrov said there is nothing in this agreement about the use of force . i.e., they will not agree to the use of force no matter what bashar al assad does.

>> two points that i want to try to pin you down on.

>> sure.

>> which is, if the russians stand in the way, if they're gaming the president and the us right now and this is --

>> they're in charge.

>> they're in charge so if they stand in the way of any potential force what would you do as president in the interim in case they do that and if that eventuality happen.

>> well, first of all, i would step up our support for the free syrian army . the president two years ago said bashar al assad has to go. where is that statement? and i would do -- give them the support that they need to change the momentum on the battlefield to lead to the negotiated departure of bashar al assad . that has always been the goal. at least certainly stated by the president of the united states . now there is no comment about that. now he is able to have killed 1400 people and he has killed over 100,000 . where is the u.s.' response to that? and up until a few days ago, not one single weapon had reached the hands of the free syrian army except for some mres whose time was about to