Hillary Clinton Supports White House on Syria
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly threw her support to the administration's efforts on Syria today, and said Syria's surrendering its chemical weapons to international control would be an "important step."
"Now, if the regime immediately surrendered its stockpiles as was suggested by Secretary Kerry and the Russians, that would be an important step, but this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction, and Russia has to support the international community's efforts sincerely or be held to account," Clinton said in her first remarks endorsing the president's plan.
"It is very important to note that this discussion … about potential international control over Syria's stockpiles only could take place in the context of a credible military threat by the United States to keep pressure on the Syrian government as well as those supporting Syria, like Russia."
Clinton mentioned that she'd met with President Obama before today's forum on wildlife trafficking at the White House to discuss the ongoing situation in Syria, but she never used the words "military strike." Instead, she said the "world will have to deal with this threat as swiftly and as comprehensively as possible."
Support for the authorization of a military strike against Syria has lagged in both the House and Senate, but Clinton said that she backed the president, saying she'd "continue to support his efforts, and I hope the Congress will as well.
"As the president has said, the Assad regime's inhuman use of weapons of mass destruction against innocent men, women and children violates a universal norm at the heart of our global order, and therefore it demands a strong response from the international community led by the United States," Clinton said. "The international community cannot ignore the ongoing threat from the Assad regime's stockpiles of chemical weapons, whether they are used against Syrian civilians or transferred to Hezbollah or stolen by other terrorists. This is about protecting both the Syrian people and our friends in the region."
Clinton called the broader conflict in Syria a "threat to regional stability and security of our allies and partners, as well as a humanitarian catastrophe for the Syrian people and those neighboring countries attempting to absorb hundreds of thousands - now more than 2 million refugees.
"Achieving a political solution that ends the conflict is in the interest of the United States," Clinton said. "It will require an intense diplomatic effort guided by the road map that was agreed to by the international community in Geneva last year in June 2012."
Last week Clinton, a potential Democratic candidate for president in 2016, backed the president's plan for limited U.S. military action in Syria, according to an aide.
A Clinton aide also told ABC News that Clinton had spoken to President Obama Sunday about Syria, before today's event at the White House, and to Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough "several times."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., confirmed to ABC News that Clinton had called him to discuss the Syria vote as well.
Clinton is also expected to address the topic of Syria again Tuesday evening at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. A Clinton aide told ABC News her comments would be "identical" to what she said today. Clinton was slated to address national security and civil liberties issues, but an aide to Clinton told ABC News that was no longer the case.
"Given the developments in Syria over the last few weeks, plans for a robust policy speech in Philadelphia where she is to receive the Liberty Medal on Tuesday night were put on hold. It's simply and obviously not the right time."
The aide said the speech would not be a "major address" nor "more expansive remarks on Syria," but "if that's what draws people to the very unique moment of Jeb Bush presenting Hillary Clinton with the National Constitution Center's 2013 Liberty Medal, so be it."
Clinton was initially criticized for not weighing in on the president's decision for a limited military strike on Syria, but she discussed the conflict in Syria often as secretary of state, including in an interview with ABC News' Cynthia McFadden in January toward the end of her tenure. McFadden asked Clinton what it would take for America to intervene in Syria.
Clinton said that while she thought "we have been very actively involved," there needed to be a "credible opposition coalition," saying, "You cannot even attempt a political solution if you don't have a recognized force to counter the Assad regime."
When asked if the U.S. would "permit" Assad to use chemical weapons, Clinton answered, "No, no and President Obama has been very clear about that."
But she did add, "It is very hard to train and equip opposition fighters. It is very hard to know who is going to emerge from this and making the wrong bet could have very severe consequences. So there are certain positions and actions we've taken, and we've also laid down the red line on chemical weapons because that could have far-reaching effects beyond even the street-to-street fighting that is so terrible to watch, and it could also affect other countries."
The day before Clinton left the State Department in January, she called the Syrian conflict "distressing on all fronts."
"I think I've done what was possible to do over the last two years in trying to create or help stand up an opposition that was credible and could be an interlocutor in any kind of political negotiation," Clinton said.
In February, it was revealed that the president had rebuffed a plan last summer by Clinton, then CIA Director David Petraeus and then Defense Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to arm the Syrian rebels.
Although we may be years from 2016, a Republican super PAC, America Rising, launched a pre-emptive strike today, saying Clinton "showed terrible judgment in dealing with Syria, showering a ruthless dictator with diplomatic attention, without regard for Bashar al-Assad's actions and intentions.
"Now at the brink of war following Assad's use of chemical weapons on his own people, Clinton's bungled Syria policy record is yet another example of her diplomatic failures as Secretary of State," Tim Miller, executive director of America Rising, said in a statement.
Monday's event, a White House forum to counter wildlife trafficking, is an issue the Clinton Foundation has taken on, the former secretary of state mentioned at the event, saying "illegal poaching and trafficking also represent an economic and security challenge in Africa and beyond."
Clinton, daughter Chelsea and former President Clinton will also host a reception and dinner this evening in Washington. According to an invitation obtained by the Associated Press, the fundraiser costs $1,000 a person to attend a cocktail reception, and $25,000 per couple for the reception and dinner at the family's Washington home.
ABC News' Devin Dwyer and Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.