Meet the Press   |  September 15, 2013

Menendez: Agreement 'full of opportunity, fraught with danger'

Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey discusses the deal struck with Syrian President Bashar Assad and its potential, and Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri weighs in.

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

>> bring in the chairman of the senate foreign relations committee democrat from new jersey, robert menendez and roy blunt will join us in a moment. chairman menendez , you heard senator mccain and you said this past week anything short of punishing assad would be a mistake. well, he's not getting punished. not at the moment.

>> well, david, look, this is a diplomatic breakthrough that is full of opportunity and fraught with danger. the opportunity is that we actually end up in a better place than we envisioned with the use of force which is the elimination of all of assad 's chemical weapons and his production facilities, in essence closing down these factories of death. the fraught part is that, in fact, assad who has still not said whether he has signed on to this agreement ultimately even if he begins to move forward with some of the beginning elements of the agreement doesn't fulfill elements of the agreement as we move along , the russians find as they often do saying some -- in their mind some plausible reason why there should be no enforceable action at the united nations and we're back to where we started except that assad has bought time on the battlefield and continued to ravage innocent civilians. that's the challenge here and so i'm looking forward to keeping the use of credible force on the table because that's the only reason we've gotten to this point even to this possibility and it is the only reason, for example, in the past that gadhafi and libya and saddam hussein in iraq when the issue was giving up chemical weapons initially believed the force was real and gave up those weapons at that time.

>> senator roy blunt is here, as well. before i ask you what you would have done, you opposed a military resolution and opposed military force in syria . that's what the president was after. do you think congress will keep the threat of military action alive as this process goes on?

>> you know, i think it depends a lot on what kind of military action the president is talking about. in fact, until --

>> we know precisely what it's not.

>> but we also know precisely what he said he was going to do and this is not the president coming to us and saying i'd like to do something in syria . this is the president coming to us and saying, here are the two things i'd like to do. i'd like to do something that is incredibly small but consequence, whatever that means and assad will still be there when it's over. that's a different verification. as late as march this year i was for establishing a safe zone of some kind in syria for the refugees and probably the insurgency. that as the insurgency good for complicated i'm not sure that was still as viable in march of this year as it was a year earlier when i thought it was the right thing to do. but i didn't think what the president was proposing in such specific terms was the right thing to do and i think it would have been a mistake for us to have a small attack that assad was still, said, look, the americans took their best shot at me which it wouldn't have been but he could say whatever it would be and i'm still here, i think assad is a lot stronger today than he was two weeks ago.

>> chairman menendez , for you, as well, look, senator mccain disagrees about this. he would have done a no-fly zone, he would have sent lethal weapons earlier and bolster that opposition in a way this administration did not. but the reality is the goal this president has is not to get involved in civil war and to try to stand up for a principle which is that you shouldn't use the worst weapons in the world no matter what kind of conflict that you are in. that's it. that's the limited american goal and the public is not even for that. chairman menendez , to you first.

>> well, look, david, number one is i think i've heard the president say there are two goals, the immediate goal is the punishment of assad and in this case if you can achieve giving up all of the chemical weapons and production facilities then you've even gone beyond that for the use of chemical weapons and to send an international message that do not cross that line and also my view strategically sending a message, for example, to the ayatollah in iran , do not think about marching towards nuclear weapons , there is a consequence or to the dictator of north korea . the other one independently that the president has said apart from the specific set of contemplative actions he had he said assad must go. now, that is through hopefully a diplomatic process, part of the -- when i say this is full of opportunities, if we could not only eliminate the entire chemical weapons program, eliminate all the chemical weapons it might also create a foundation in which you could finally go to the negotiated agreements that russia and the united states were going to pursue what they call geneva 2. that's an opportunity but there's a lot to go before we realize the opportunity but i have heard the president say that assad must go. now, i agree with senator mccain in this regard. dramatically more assisting the vetted moderate syrian opposition is i think incredibly important to achieve the first goal and i also hope that we will pursue assad for war crimes even the comments of ban ki-moon, the secretary-general of the united nations are very significant. he's rereserved most of the time. the comments that he has committed crimes against humanity is something i'd like to see pursued

>> that's interesting. i want to underline that because i've heard others and heard from some viewers too about that being a big issue whether he's pursued for war crimes . let me give you the last word, senator.

>> i think senator menendez mentioned iran . i think we should -- iranians should understand what has happened in the last two weeks is not the template for iran . a nuclear capable iran is not acceptable. this would be a totally different debate in the congress. i hope the administration's reaction would be totally different and, frankly, i think what's happened in the last two weeks is going to take us a while to recover from. our friends wonder what we'll do and our adversaries have taken heart in seeing the uncertainty of the last two weeks.

>> senators both, thank you very