Kerry, Hagel, Dempsey Press House Lawmakers at Hearing

Secretary of State John Kerry continues push urging lawmakers to approve military action in Syria.
32:48 | 09/10/13

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Transcript for Kerry, Hagel, Dempsey Press House Lawmakers at Hearing
This is a special report from ABC. I'm Dan -- New York with a CBC news digital special reports Syria today. Says it has accepted a Russian proposal to hand over its stockpile of chemical weapons to the international community. The White House has yet to react to the agreement the President Obama said yesterday after Russia proposed the idea that. It could lead to a significant breakthrough -- this coming as the president prepares to address the nation tonight making his case -- -- launch -- strike against Syria now right now the house armed services committee is beginning a hearing and testifying is secretary of state John Kerry. Along with secretary defense Chuck Hagel and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff general Martin Dempsey. Let's listen now to secretary carriers humanness his opening Wednesday. This particular issue. So this is good it's good that we're here and we look forward to the conversation. And as we -- At this. Hearing. It is no exaggeration at all to say to you that the world. Is watching and they're watching not just to see what we decide there watching to see how we decide it. And whether or not we have the ability at this critical time. When so much -- on the line and so many parts of the world. As challenges to government's. Writ large. It's important that we show the world that we actually do have the ability to hopefully speak. With one voice and we believe that that can make a difference. Needless to say this is one of the most important decisions that any member of congress makes during the course of the their service. And we all want to make sure we leave plenty of time here for discussion obviously this is a very large committee. And so world try to. Summarize in these comments and give the opportunity for the Q -- today. But -- one -- with a few comments about questions I'm hearing from many of your colleagues and obviously from. The American people what we read in the news first. People ask me and ask you I know. Why we are choosing to have a debate on Syria. At a time when there's so much that we need to be doing here at home and we all know what that agenda is. Let me assure you. The president the United States didn't wake up one day and just kind of -- at least say let's go take military action in Syria. He didn't choose this. We didn't choose this. We're here today because Bashar Al Assad -- dictator. Who was chosen to meet the requests for reform in this country. With bullets and bombs and napalm and gas. Because he made a decision to use the world's most heinous. Weapons to murder more than in one instance more than 14100. Innocent people including. More than 400 children. Hayes and his regime and made a choice. And President Obama believes in all of us at this table believe. -- we have no choice but to respond. -- to those who doubt whether. Side's actions have to have consequences. Remember that are in action. Absolutely is guaranteed to bring worse consequences. You every one of you here we all of us America will face this. If not today. Somewhere down the line when the permissiveness of not acting now. Gives us -- licensed to go do what he wants. And threaten Israel threaten Jordan threaten Lebanon. Create greater instability in a region already wracked by instability were -- where stability. Is one of the greatest priorities. Of our foreign policy and of our national security interest. That brings me to the second question that I've heard lately. Which is sort of what's really at stake here. You know. Does this really affect us I met earlier today with Steve -- and had a good conversation I asked him what you know what are you hearing I know what you're all hearing. The instant reaction of a lot of Americans anywhere in our country is in Walpole we don't want to go. To war again we don't wanna go to Iraq -- want to go to Afghanistan we've seen how those turned out I get it. And I'll speak to that in a minute. But I want to make it clear at the outset as each of us at the stable want to make it clear that what Assad has done. Directly affects America's security America's. Security. We have a huge national interest. In containing all weapons of mass destruction. And they use of gas is a weapon of mass destruction. Allowing those weapons to be used with impunity would be an enormous. -- In our armor that we have built up over years. Against proliferation. Think about it. Our own troops. Benefit from that prohibition against chemical weapons. I mentioned yesterday in the briefing many viewer there. And some of you notice from decorations otherwise I know many view of served in the military some of you still in the reserves. And you know the training that we -- to go through it. When your you know learning and I went to chemical nuclear -- biological warfare -- I remember. Going in a row many gas mask and they make you take it off and -- -- along and do an -- furlong. Those weapons have been out lord -- our troops in all of the wars we fought since World War I have never been subjected to it. Because we stand up for that prohibition. There's a reason for that. If we don't answer Assad today we will irreparably damage a century old standard. That is protected American troops in war. So to every one of your constituents -- they were to citywide to vote for this even though we said we don't wanna go to war. Because you want to protect American troops because you want to protect America's prohibition and the world's prohibition against these weapons. The stability of this region is also in our direct security interest. Our allies our friends in Israel Jordan and Turkey. Are all of them just a strong winds -- away from being injured themselves or. Potentially from the purposeful attack. Failure to act now will make this already volatile neighborhood even more combustible that it will almost certainly pave the way. For a more serious challenge challenge in the future. And you can just ask our friends in Israel or elsewhere in Israel they can't get enough gas masks. And there's a reason that prime minister has said this matters this decision matters. It's called Iran. Iran looms out there -- its potential. With its nuclear program in the challenge we have been facing. And that moment is coming closer in terms of the decision. There watching what we do here. There watching what you do and whether or not this means something. If we choose not to act we will be sending a message to Iran of American ambivalence American weakness. It will raise a question I've heard this question. The secretary of state -- -- meet with people and they ask us about -- of our long term interest in the future with respect to Iran. They've they've asked me many times do you really mean what you say. Are you really -- do something. They asked whether or not. The United States is committed Damascus also if the president cuts a deal. Will congress back it up can he deliver. This is all integrated. I am I've no doubt I've talked to prime minister -- yesterday Israel does not want to be in the middle of this but we know. That their security is at risk in the region is at risk. I also want to remind you you have already spoken to this your word is on the line to. You passed the Syria accountability act. And that act clearly states. That Syria's chemical weapons threaten the security in the Middle East that's in plain writing it's in the act he voted for. We've already decided these chemical weapons are important to the security of our nation. I quote. The national security interest of the United States. Our. The national security interest of the United -- Are at risk with the weapons of mass of the chemical weapons. Of Syria. The fourth question I've been asked a lot of times is why diplomacy is in changing this -- dynamic is and there are some alternative. That could avoid this. And I want to emphasize on behalf of President Obama. President Obama's first priority through out this process. Has been and is diplomacy. Diplomacy is our first resort. And we have brought this issue to the united nations security council on many occasions. We have sent direct messages to Syria. And we've had serious allies. Bring them direct messages. Don't do this don't use these weapons. All. To date. To no -- In the last three years Russia and China has vetoed three Security Council resolutions condemning the regime for inciting violence. Or resolutions that simply promote a political solution to the dialogue to the conflict. Russia has even blocked press releases press releases. That do nothing more than express humanitarian concern. For what is happening in Syria. Or merely condemn the generic use of chemical weapons not even assigning blame. They have blocked them. We've brought. These concerns to the United Nations making the case to the members of the Security Council -- protecting civilians. Prohibiting the use of chemical weapons and promoting peace and security are in our shared interests. And those. General. Statements have been blocked. That is why the president -- directed me. To work with the Russians in the region's players to get the Geneva to peace negotiation. Underway. And the end to the conflict -- she -- -- in Syria. We all emphasized today. Is a political. Solution. None of us are coming -- today asking for a long term military means as some people think we ought to be. But we don't believe there is any military solution to what is happening in Syria. But make no mistake. No political. Solution will ever be achievable. As long as -- believes. He can just gas is way out of this predicament. And we are without question building -- coalition of support for this now. 31 countries have signed on to the G-20. This statement which is a powerful one endorsing the United States' efforts to hold. Assad accountable for what he is doing. Turkey Saudi Arabia -- France and many others are committed to joining with us in any action. We're now in the double digits with the respective countries that are prepared to actually take action. Should they be needed were they capable of more than 25. That -- been mentioned 31 nations signing on to the G twelve statement. But our diplomatic hand. My former colleague's -- are diplomatic hand. Only become stronger. If other countries know that America's speaking with a strong voice here -- one voice and therefore stronger. As a united nation around this purpose in order to speak with that voice we need -- the congress that's what the president did. Many of you said. Please bring this to congress. President has done that. And he's bringing it to congress with confidence that the congress will want to join in an effort. In order to uphold the word of the United States of America not just a president. But the United States of America with respect to these weapons of mass destruction. Now I wanna be crystal clear about something else some people want to do more in Syria. Some people are leery about doing anything at all. But one goal we ought to all be able to agree on is that chemical weapons cannot be under the control of a man. So craven that he has repeatedly used those chemical weapons against his fellow Syrians. With a terrific results that all of us have been able to see. Yesterday. We challenge the regime to turn them over to the secure control of the international community. So that they could be destroyed. And that of course would be the ultimate way. To degrade and deter us side's arsenal. And is the ideal weapon ideal way to take this weapon away from them. I sides chief benefactor the Russians. Have responded by saying that they would come up with a proposal. To do exactly that and we have made it clear to -- I have been several conversations with foreign minister Lavrov. That this cannot be a process of delay. This cannot be a process of avoidance then asked to be real has to -- measurable tangible and it is exceedingly difficult I want everybody here to know. To fulfill those conditions. But were waiting for that proposal. But we're not waiting for a long. President Obama will take a hard look at it. But it has to be swift it has to be real pass to be verifiable. It cannot be a delaying tactic. And if the united nations Security Council seeks to be the vehicle to make it happen. That cannot be allowed to simply become a debating society. There are many countries. In many view in the congress. From those who wanted military action to those who were skeptical of military action. Want to see if -- side here could become a reality. But make no mistake make no mistake about why this idea. Has any potential. Legs at all. And why it is that the Russians have reached out to the Syrians and why the Syrians have initially. Suggested they might be interest it. Lot of people say that nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of -- hanging. Well it's the credible threat of force. That has been on the table for these last weeks that as for the first time. Brought this regime to even acknowledge. That they have a chemical weapons arsenal. And it is the threat of this force. And our determination to hold Assad accountable. That is motivated others to even talk about a real and credible. International action that might have an impact. So how do you maintain that pressure. We have to continue to show Syria Russia and the world that we are not going to fall for stalling tactics. It's a challenge we laid down -- but it going to have the potential to become a real proposal. It is only because of the threat of force that we are discussing today. And that threat is more compelling if congress stands with the commander in chief. Finally. Let me just correct -- common misperception. In our conversation with Steve Bush -- earlier today he mentioned this I've heard -- I've talked with many -- view you've told me you hear -- The the -- instant reaction of a lot of Americans and I am completely. Sympathetic to -- I understand that. I know where it comes from I only stopped. Sitting where you say that the few months ago. I know exactly what the feelings are. People don't want another Iraq none of us do we don't want Afghanistan. The mister chairman -- all due respect we can't make this decision based solely on the budget. We can't make this decision based solely on our wishes. On our feeling -- We know we've been through the ringer for a while -- the United States for American people look to us they look to us. For the meaning of our word and they look to us for our values in fact. That being followed up by the imprint of action where that is necessary. We are not talking about America going to war. President Obama is not asking for a declaration of -- we are not going to war. There will be no American boots on the ground. Let me repeat no American boots will be on the ground what we're talking about. Is -- targeted. Limited. But consequential election. That reinforce the prohibition against chemical weapons in general Dempsey and sector and -- would tell you how we can achieve that. And their confidence in our ability to achieve that. We're talking about an action that will degrade us its capacity to use these weapons. And to ensure that they do not proliferate. And -- this authorization the president is asking for the power. To make sure that the United States of America. Means what we say. Mr. chairman mr. ranking member and members of this committee. I can say -- you with absolute confidence. The risks of not acting. Is much greater than the risk of acting. If we fail to ask -- side will believe that he has a license to gases own people again. And that license will turn prohibited weapons. Into. Tactical weapons. Joan Dempsey can tell you about this. It would make. It would take taken an exception. -- purposeful exception that has been in force since 1925. And make it the rules today. It would undermined our standing degrade America's security and our credibility and erode our strength in the world. In a world of terrorists and extremists. We would choose to ignore those risks -- our apparel. We cannot afford to have chemical weapons. Transformed. Into the new. Convenient weapon the IED the car bomb the weapon of everyday use in this world. Neither our country. Nor our conscience can bear the costs of inaction. And that's why we've come before you at the instruction of the president to ask you to join us in this effort. Secretary. Mr. chairman. Ranking member Smith and members of committee. The Department of Defense has a responsibility to protect the national security interest the United States. And general Dempsey and I take that responsibility very seriously. That's why I strongly support president Obama's decision to respond to the aside regimes chemical weapons attack. On its own people. -- large scale in the heinous serin gas assault on innocent civilians including women and children. -- also whole heartily support the president's decision to seek congressional authorization for the use of force in Syria it. And I believe secretary -- outlined those reasons very clearly. The president has made clear that it is in our country's national security interest to do degrade. -- chemical weapons capabilities. And deter him. From using them again. As secretary Kerry mentioned yesterday. We outlined a way to accomplish -- objective. And avert military action. -- would require the aside regime to swiftly turn its chemical weapons arsenal over to international control. So it can be destroyed for ever. As President Obama noted in a verifiable manner. All of us are hopeful. That this option. Might be a real solution to this crisis. Yet we must be very clear ride. And ensure it is not a stalling tactic by Syria and its Russian patriots. And for this diplomatic option to have a chance of succeeding. The threat of -- US military action. They're credible real. Threat. Of US military action must continue. As we are talking today and will continue to talk and discuss throughout the week. It was a president's determination to hold a -- accountable. And the fact that he put military action on the table that enabled this new diplomatic track. To maybe gain some momentum. And credibility. The support of congress for holding -- -- accountable given will give even more energy. And more urgency. To these efforts. So congress has a responsibility to continue this important debate on authorizing use of force against the Syrian regime. As each of us knows. Committing our country using military force is the most difficult decision leaders will make. All of those who are privileged to serve our nation. Ever -- ability to ask the tough questions. Before that commitment is made. We must be able to assure the American people that their leaders are acting according to US national interest. With well defined military objectives. And within understanding of the risks in the consequences involved. The president is an entire national security team. -- those difficult questions. Before we concluded that the United States should take military action against Syrian regime -- I want to address briefly how we reach this decision by clarifying the US interest at stake here today. In in the future. Our military objectives. That in the risks of not acting. At this critical juncture. As president Obama's views. And we're listening to the opening statements of secretary of defense Chuck Hagel presenting before the house armed services committee. His statements following secretary of state John Kerry and then following. Secretary hagel will be Bruce -- general Martin Dempsey chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff they're presenting before the house armed services committee. Their testimony for authorization for military strike in Syria and of course this all coming before the president's prime time address tonight to the American people. I want to bring in ABC news Louis Martinez who is at the Pentagon and -- we have been hearing. These three gentlemen make their case before the committees of the Senate's on the house what did we hear -- those opening statements. That secretary of state John Kerry said one thing and and he wanted to know if we could maybe start off on this point. Yeah he did say that the decision to go into Syria with any kind of military action cannot be determined on -- -- -- has. What he's talking about there -- Chairman -- -- Senate Armed Services Committee has said that he would not favor US military action in Syria. Given the budget uncertainty -- the military faces right now this is that topic of conversation here in Washington -- his -- ration the automatic budget cuts that he feels weakening US military he says we're -- -- go into Syria we need to have a long term plan because we need. Anybody bring military with active funding -- Of course there's -- debt ceiling hanging over Washington right now at the end of the month. And said negotiations are going on about that a Mickey wants to see see -- cuts affecting the Pentagon to be resolved so that in terms of what. What happens with regards to Syria but I think the real big news here and -- statement and in heels statement this morning outweighs the comments about the roadside Russian proposal. -- -- to Syria that Syria turn over chemical weapons program. Senior international observers to put them under national control and her very forcefully from. I'm Kerry talking about how the US is gonna look at this -- President Obama is going to take a hard look at this tree but. That it's not going to take a long time he says this has to be a very credible proposal. And he doesn't want this to become a delaying tactic at the UN Security Council is not -- to become an debating societies we call that. You heard similar things from secretary handle both of them making the case that the only reason why this new proposal as actually on the table is being talked about it because it a credible threat of force that. The U United States has talked about over the coming over the last couple weeks so they're saying that you heard of them very -- from Kerry saying that and nothing forces change like. Like -- hanging. In this case that would be -- -- potential for US military action. Saturday and this all coming from -- would seem to be that off the cuff remark yesterday by the secretary of state when he was in London. Went one of the reporters had asked him what could Syria due to stop -- to revert. A US military strike and that was the comment that he had made for that the Charlotte -- to give -- -- chemical weapons stockpile and that of course prompted reaction by the Russians. And then of course that creation of a proposal which that would G -- out at least from the details that we preliminarily now. That if the Asad regime did turn over its chemical weapons stockpile. Over to the international controls -- comedy about the idea would be to. Stop any kind of military. Response by the and -- it is. And and is gaining traction and today we're hearing at the France is going to present it UN Security Council resolution. It is basically following that road now. But also with the caveat that if Syria doesn't follow through and they're gonna follow through what's called chapter seven which is the use of military force you're also hearing dismisses them. I -- -- also gaining traction on Capitol Hill. You know -- haven't -- the whole point this lobbying effort is war. The house and senate to pass resolutions that support the authorization to use military force as we know we've been here we're all about these what counts on the numbers are just not there in -- house or in the senate but even. Those resolutions are being changed -- -- in light of what's happened yesterday we heard from the Senator McCain. Who can be very forceful and vocal in calling for action in Syria. He said this morning that there -- amendments underway right now that -- take into account this new proposals something along the lines of setting guidelines. For how -- take care of these chemical weapons in -- the -- -- the international community of course this resolution that is being debated on the senate -- costs for sixty days limited action against Syria. And no boots on the ground -- -- the conundrum here is. How do you verify that. These -- chemical weapons stockpiles are under girls -- not -- -- be used it in case the US decides to participate. -- with no boots on the ground honey do. Right and in it was it was been fascinated the fact that yes as -- -- -- out -- it has gained traction from an initial statement that Burnett does secretary of state had made yesterday. On the game and win that resolution that passed last week by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee he didn't seem to sway your didn't seem to have much momentum to carry over. I into the senate at large and then obviously over to the other chamber over to the house as well. -- -- do we know as far as the president's address tonight. If if that's going to be altered in any way based on this very latest development has been coming out of this Russian proposal. Or does the president to stick with the same message. That he that he had intended to go -- -- You're gonna hear the president lay out the same thing that you're you're hearing John Kerry and chuck cable talk about right now which is that this is an interesting proposal -- would look at but at the same time we must continue forward with a -- clearly US. Sending the message to Syria of that. The use of chemical weapons cannot be tolerated because it goes against all international arms that's what -- The White House has been talking about for the last -- this became a topic of discussion here in Washington would. When they wanted to send a message that this is gonna impact credibility of the United States internationally with regards to you North Korea's potential actions within any action by Iran and didn't put aside -- chemical weapons are talking about the broader range of UW and. Iran's nuclear capabilities. Syria North Korea's ballistic capabilities. That's the message that the president's consent I imagine he's gonna reaffirm what he said last night on sons his interviews with the broadcast networks and the news networks. Where he -- that this is an interesting proposal that if it is serious that it must be looked bad but that we must continue. With the message that. When we could. Have to bring you use military action against Syria in a limited way. -- can send a message that they should not to use chemical weapons in the future that the message of -- -- and degrade. Serious chemical weapons program that's something that -- -- here for in the last week or two and you're gonna can hear continue to hear from the president again tonight. Do we -- that this finally this will be the last consumer for -- because if you wanna go back to the -- to the hearing is underway there. Do we know -- at this point if the president or the State Department or the military have drawn any kind of alternative plans that might be able to coordinate with that kind of proposal from Russia in the event -- a full on strike. I EE is not something -- the president can get support behind. But working -- -- and one of the things you always hear is that their contingency plans for everything. I imagine this must must've been a low priority at some point but now. Pace probably gaining gaining some steam here in terms of how to progress in the future one thing that we did hear from chairman -- last week was. That there are contingency plans he said I can't talk about them in this -- setting that there are classified contingency plans for what happens -- the reason the -- regime falls. At that point he said we work with regional partners with those militaries to move into Syria. And to take over the chemical weapons stockpiles but what he wasn't saying was that US troops are beginning this he said this is a -- -- underway with regional partners to do so so you can probably see some flexibility in that where. Instead of being regional partners it becomes -- UN. The type of mission if it ever gets this far of course right now we're just that step number one. And it's opening a lot of doors here in Washington and around the world. But it we have a long way to go before that ever happens. Louis Martinez of the Pentagon -- thank you for that we appreciate that and speaking general Martin Dempsey he is now addressing. The house armed services committee let's listen -- that of course we have a full report on abcnews.com. We will continue again to live stream. This community here that is where -- taking place in Washington DC for now on desktops -- New York to limit the -- community -- -- specialist -- mitigate the potential for miscalculation. This has been a special report from me.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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