POLITICS
09/09/2013 05:29 pm ET

Joe Manchin On Syria: Russia's Proposal Moved The Ball, 'Thank God For That'

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WASHINGTON -- A seemingly off-the-cuff suggestion by Secretary of State John Kerry that Syria could avoid being attacked by the United States if it handed over its chemical weapons is getting a decent reception on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers there, who were skeptical about military intervention in the first place, were heartened to see another option emerge on the proverbial table, even if the State Department insists that Kerry wasn't announcing any formal policy.

And when Russia's foreign minister shortly thereafter called on Syrian president Bashar Assad to place his chemical weapons in "storage sites under international control" and join the "treaty on prohibition of chemical weapons" -- and when Syrian officials said they welcomed the offer -- those same lawmakers began touting the benefits of time, debate and reflection.

"It moved a little bit," Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) told The Huffington Post, speaking of the standoff between the U.S. and Syria. "Thank god for that. It moved a little bit."

"I am very encouraged to see that Russia has stepped up to the plate and said that Syria should sign. I've heard also on the other side, 'Well, you can't trust them,'" he added. "We've been told in all of our briefings it doesn't matter when we hit. There is no urgency to hit tonight or last week or the week before as we thought. So if that is the case, why don't you let the Russians play out their hand to find out if [the Syrians] are for real or not? Because I believe they will be more discredited if they mislead."

"None of this makes sense to me," Manchin said of the apparent rush to take action.

Manchin, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said his goal is to slow the beating of the war drums. He has introduced a resolution along with Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) that would give the Syrian government 45 days to sign and comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention. If Syria refused to sign after that period, the U.S. government would be in a stronger position to take military action.

He said he's showed the language of the resolution to the administration and has discussed it with colleagues on the Hill. Whether it will receive consideration on the Senate floor is another question entirely.

"I think we are risking a heck of a lot more by [striking now] when we know that we have a powder keg [in Syria]. We truly do," said Manchin. "Before it comes to that and it comes to a vote that could be embarrassing, I would like to see cooler heads come out."

"In 45 days, if this man does not show his true intent for chemical weapons -- why he produces them, why he has them and what he wants to do with them -– then the president still has the War Powers Act to do what he thinks is in the best interest for the country."

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