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CNN "Face the Nation with Bob Schieffer" - Transcript - Syrian Civil War


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BOB SCHIEFFER: And we're back now with Senator Jack Reed. He is one of the senior Democrats on the Senate Armed Services Committee. He's home in Providence, Rhode Island, this morning. Senator Reed, you heard Senator McCain. What is your thought on a fly-- no-fly zone? He seems to think that's one of the first things we ought to do here.

SENATOR JACK REED (Armed Services Committee/D-Rhode Island): Well, first thing I think Senator McCain's trip indicates the kind of dedication to duty and personal courage he exemplified through his entire life and his impressions are very valuable. I think the no-fly zone is not going to effectively deter the Assad regime. They can use artillery. In fact, they can probably use helicopter gunships. They can continue the fight; I think the issue here is not so much a military issue. First, it's the organizational and institutional coherence of the opposition military forces. Senator McCain is right. They're extremely brave, dedicated fighters. There are some good leaders, but without that organizational coherence and training, if they have weapons or if they have the freer skies that they still I don't think will be a decisive factor. The key here, ultimately, is a political resolution. That's why this conference in Geneva is so critical. And it's critical that the Syrian opposition attend, and also that we can convince-- and this is a difficult task to Russians, that despite their attachment to Assad, their support for Assad, that some of the things that Senator McCain talked about and really possible--regional spillover, disintegration, chaotic sectarian warfare, would be as detrimental to-- to the Russians as anyone else in their own self-interest. They have to be much more responsible and much less provocative.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, what then should we do? What do you think that United States could do at this point? Some people say there's not much we can do.

SENATOR JACK REED: Well, first of all, we have to provide humanitarian assistance, to-- particularly, to Jordan and to other countries. We have to reiterate that the introduction of more sophisticated weapons, particularly, the sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons would be a regional threat and, particularly, a threat to Israel and have to be very conscious of that. And that's another reason why we talk about arming the-- the opposition in Syria, that might be a signal to the Russians that they can just go ahead and continue to accelerate the arms race there. That's another reason we have to come back, I think, to Geneva. And I-- I think it's a very difficult negotiation process that the sense-- and I think Senator McCain is right that Assad, who appeared months ago to be on his last legs has regrouped, reformed. I think there is a fragmentation going on territorially in Syria, he is getting outside assistance. But this calls, I think, for, ultimately, a political solution, and our energies should be directed, at least through this Geneva conference the next few weeks, of trying to arrive with our allies--the European Union, particularly-- with a political arrangement and the Russians have to be a key part of that. I don't think we take any options off the table, but the first priority is seeing if we can make a breakthrough politically.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Do you agree with Senator McCain that Assad now has the upper hand that he is winning?

SENATOR JACK REED: I think he has stabilized his position significantly. In the first few weeks of this revolution, which began peacefully, there was massive defections from the Syrian Army, many of them Sunnis who were leaving the forces. Since that time he's been able to reconstitute his forces. He's-- as Senator McCain rightly pointed out, he has received technical and military assistance from the Iranians and from the Russians, but I don't think he has a decisive position where he can control all of Syria. I think my fear is that what you get is a fragmentation, what you get is a spillover into other areas. And as a result, again, in the long term, the-- the resolution must come from political cooperation and cooperation from parties that to this point, particularly the Russians, have not been helpful. I don't think there's major expectation that the Iranians will be constructive. And, in fact, you know, they see this as an existential sort of battle. But if we can get the Russians to be more responsible, and they'll-- they'll only do it in their own self interest. They won't do it because they-- they want to see a secular, decent regime in-- in Damascus. We have to be able to convince them that this is too dangerous, this potential spillover effect, this potential humanitarian crisis, and, particularly, the escalation of arms that it would threaten them. And if that's the case, if we can make that argument, as Secretary Kerry has well versed and well-prepared, then we do have a chance, I think, of lowering the-- the threshold of violence, and, also trying to arrange some type of political transition. You know, months ago the-- the Russians were even conceding that Assad was gone, and they-- they were-- they were looking beyond that. Now, if we can make such a transition in a way that is guaranteed supported and cooperated by the major powers, that not only might end the fighting or at least diminish it, but it would augur well for-- much more stable situation after hostilities come to an end.

BOB SCHIEFFER: Senator, I have about thirty seconds left. But I want to ask you quickly, these controversies surrounding Eric Holder. Do you think he ought to step aside? Do you think he's the one that ought to be investigating this situation about the news leaks and all of that, since he is, obviously, involved?

SENATOR JACK REED: I don't think he should step aside. I think he should be very careful in terms of delegating responsibilities, so even the appearance of conflicts are avoided. And I think as Senator McCain indicated, he has the obligation as every public servant and candidates have to fully explain to the American public and to the Congress what he did, what was his rationale. That I think is incumbent with being the-- the Attorney General of the United States.

BOB SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, Senator, thank you so much. I'll be right back--

SENATOR JACK REED: Thank you, Bob.


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