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Sen. Susan Collins Wary Of U.S. Military Strike In Syria

Monday, September 9, 2013

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Robert Siegel talks with Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican from Maine who remains undecided on whether the U.S. should go forward on military action in Syria despite several high level briefings including a small dinner at Vice President Joe Biden's residence on Sunday night.



Senator Susan Collins of Maine was part of a group of Republican senators who dined last night with Vice President Biden. Pasta was on the menu, Syria was on everyone's mind and President Obama was the surprise guest. Senator Collins went into the dinner undecided on the issue and joins us now from Capitol Hill. Welcome to the program once again.

SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS: Thank you very much, Robert.

SIEGEL: Are you still undecided?

COLLINS: I am. The dinner was very useful. We spent three hours discussing the administration's proposal to launch a military strike against Syria. But I still am concerned that that could well lead to our becoming entangled in what is going to be a protracted civil war.

SIEGEL: When you say you're concerned about the U.S. becoming entangled, do you mean that the strikes aren't sufficiently limited or that simply could be the consequence of any airstrikes?

COLLINS: I think it could be the consequences of any airstrikes. I've encouraged the administration to look at this issue more broadly. Right now, we seem to be faced with just two choices: either taking no action whatsoever against the abhorrent use of chemical weapons by Assad against its own people or launching a military strike, which is, after all, an act of war.

I believe that there are other alternatives, and we've seen some progress today with the Russians apparently agreeing to put some pressure on Assad to turn over his stockpile of chemical weapons to the United Nations or other means of international control.

SIEGEL: Let's pursue that a bit more. Today, Secretary Kerry, in what sounded like an offhand reply to a reporter - and it was then qualified by his aides to point out that it was hypothetical - said that if Syria were to place all its chemical weapons under international control within a week, then he could see no need for airstrikes. And the Russians and the Syrians picked up on that offer. Do you welcome or trust the Russians as intermediaries here?

COLLINS: Well, it's not so much a matter of trusting the Russians as it is recognizing that they are one of only two players - Iran being the other and the more unlikely partner - that has real influence on Syria. And if the Russians will join with us and the United Nations in putting pressure on President Assad to turn over his stockpile of chemical weapons, I think that's an extremely positive development and one that we should pursue.

SIEGEL: Just one other point, Senator Collins. You're undecided. The points you've made here are arguments against airstrikes in Syria. There must be something in here that weighs in the other direction. What is that? What is it that at least keeps you undecided about the idea of airstrikes?

COLLINS: What keeps me undecided is, first of all, I never know when additional information may be presented as I continue with this long series of classified briefings and discussions with experts. But also I am concerned that when the president of the United States makes a threat, that it does affect America's credibility in the world if it is not carried out.

And that's why I'm searching for an alternative that does not involve launching a military strike against Syria, but still results in disarming Assad in, frankly, a more effective way than a military strike would do since there's no way that military strikes could take out his entire chemical stockpile and the means to deliver them.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Senator Collins, thank you very much for talking with us today.

COLLINS: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, still undecided, on the fence, about airstrikes against Syria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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