WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton endorsed President Barack Obama's attempt to win congressional approval of a military strike in Syria, saying Monday that any move by the Assad regime to surrender its weapons to international control would be an "important step." But Clinton cautioned that the removal of its chemical weapons stockpile should not be an "excuse for delay and obstruction" by Syria.
Clinton met with Obama at the White House as the administration sought to sway skeptical lawmakers in Congress to approve a plan to punish Syria's government for last month's chemical weapons attack. The former first lady offered her first public statements on the Syrian crisis, adding her voice to a series of Obama allies who have supported the military action.
"I will continue to support his efforts and I hope the Congress will as well," Clinton said at forum on wildlife trafficking, an issue that was one of her priorities at the State Department. Clinton noted that Secretary of State John Kerry had suggested a new proposal that would have Syria turn over its stockpiles but she said "the international community cannot ignore the ongoing threat of the Assad regime's stockpiling of chemical weapons."
"Now if the regime immediately surrenders its stockpile to international control as was suggested by Secretary Kerry and the Russians that would be an important step. But this cannot be another excuse for delay and obstruction and Russia has to support the international community's efforts sincerely or be held to account," she said.
"The world will have to deal with this threat as swiftly and comprehensively as possible," Clinton added. Clinton has largely avoided weighty foreign policy issues since leaving the State Department in February but her backing of Obama's plan could help persuade wary Democrats considering the administration's plan to use force in Syria in the aftermath of President Bashar Assad's alleged use on chemical weapons.
As the nation's top diplomat, Clinton supported intervening in Syria with a proposal in the summer of 2012, developed with then-CIA Director David Petraeus and then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, to arm vetted units of the Syrian rebels. The White House later rebuffed those efforts. Clinton also pushed attempts in the United Nations to develop a political transition in Syria and provide humanitarian aid to Syrians.
The former first lady is the Democrats' leading contender for the White House in 2016 if she decides to run for president again and any statements she makes on key policy issues could follow her into a future campaign.
Obama's quest for the Democratic nomination in 2008 was helped by his opposition to the Iraq war, a stance that he used effectively against Clinton. As a New York senator, Clinton voted in 2002 to authorize the Iraq war, but that position later put her in disfavor with many anti-war Democratic voters in many early voting states.
Clinton spoke about Syria at a White House forum on wildlife trafficking, where she was joined by her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and other activists who discussed ways of disrupting the trafficking and poaching of African elephants and rhinos.
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