By Sen. Angus King
It should come as no surprise that since Congress returned to Washington after the August recess, the situation in Syria, and the use of chemical weapons there, has consumed the vast majority of our time and energy.
As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee, I have had many meetings with leaders of the Department of Defense, our nation's intelligence agencies and others outside of government, such as former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, to gain a more complete understanding of what happened in Syria, the options for responding, and their implications. My office has received thousands of calls, e-mails and letters from people in Maine expressing their concerns, and it is clear that the majority of Americans do not want to see this country get involved in another conflict in the Middle East.
As Congress weighed the consequences of action versus inaction, a number of different proposals were offered, including one from the White House, one from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and one from Sens. Manchin, D-W. Va., and Heitkamp, D-N.D. However, all that changed Monday, Sept. 9, when the Russians, who have been longtime supporters of the Assad regime, announced their desire to work toward a diplomatic solution. Like many of my colleagues in the Senate, I was deeply concerned about the ramifications of a U.S.-led military strike and I welcomed this new approach.
Following that, I was also pleased to learn that American and Russian diplomats had successfully produced a framework for the identification and elimination of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal by the middle of 2014. A diplomatic solution to eliminate his chemical weapons capabilities is clearly preferable to a military one, and is particularly important because it would also remove the possibility of the weapons falling into the hands of terrorist groups or other extremists.
The real test now is the implementation of that agreement. As I learned from my recent trip to the region, the situation in Syria is incredibly complex and the ongoing violence will certainly create a difficult security environment for enforcement of the agreement's terms. These challenges will undoubtedly play out in the coming weeks when the Syrian government is expected to provide a comprehensive listing of its chemical weapons stockpile.
At this point the United States has not removed the possibility of U.S.-led military strikes to enforce compliance with the agreement. Based on my own observations, as well as conversations with diplomacy experts, it is clear that one of the primary catalysts in bringing the Russians -- and the Assad regime -- to the negotiating table was the president's threat of military action.
Ensuring compliance with the agreement will be no easy task, but I am confident the potential exists to take positive steps forward in helping the Syrian people bring an end to this humanitarian crisis and rid the Syrian regime -- and the world -- of dangerous chemical weapons.
Sen. Angus King is an independent senator from Maine.