POLITICS
09/09/2013 01:16 pm ET | Updated Sep 09, 2013

Syria Chemical Weapons: 'We Have A Good Picture' Of Where They Are, Says Obama Official

WASHINGTON -- U.S. armed forces have a "good picture" of where Syrian President Bashar Assad is stashing chemical weapons and are confident that funding a military intervention won't require additional legislation, a top foreign policy aide to the president said on Saturday.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken was hesitant to discuss many planned operational details should the administration go through with military engagement in Syria. But he did stress that any action would be limited in scope and that the "short-term" objective "did not involve" removing Assad from power.

He argued that even within these confines, the United States had the capacity and intelligence to ensure that a strike would be effective.

"We have a good picture of where a lot of the weapons are, the infrastructure is, and everything that is necessary to use those weapons and deploy them," said Blinken. "I will just have to leave it at that."

The comments come as skepticism continues to grow over the administration's push for an authorization of use of force in Syria. Lawmakers on the Hill have expressed concerns about the costs of such an endeavor, in addition to fears that a strike would prove unsuccessful.

In late August, the Associated Press reported that "intelligence officials ... could not pinpoint the exact locations of Assad's supplies of chemical weapons" and were worried that "Assad could have moved them."

"That lack of certainty means a possible series of U.S. cruise missile strikes aimed at crippling Assad's military infrastructure could hit newly hidden supplies of chemical weapons, accidentally triggering a deadly chemical attack," the report ominously concluded.

Blinken downplayed any such uncertainty. As for the costs of a strike, he said the administration "did not anticipate" military intervention would require a supplemental appropriations bill.

A longtime aide to Vice President Joe Biden and the former Democratic staff director for the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Blinken has taken on an outsize role in recent days, as the administration makes the public-relations push for military force.

He's worked to fill in the policy gaps of what amounts to a political argument in favor of intervention, and he's spent a good chunk of his time making the case that the rebels in Syria are capable of setting up a functioning government that is respectful of human rights, should Assad fall.

"We are engaged with them virtually every day with some of our leading diplomats and experts," Blinken said of the rebels. "It is a work in progress. I think they are getting more and more cohesive. They are developing a capacity to govern. But it is something that we continue to work on."

Asked to respond to a recent New York Times article revealing that in 2012 rebel groups executed Syrian government forces by shooting them in the back of the head, Blinken replied, "There are bad guys among the opposition. But the entire focus of our strategy has been to isolate and minimize them."

Making the case for intervention in Syria has been difficult and at times rocky for Blinken. He told NPR last week that the president had no intention of acting if Congress were to ultimately reject his request for a military force authorization. In his interview with HuffPost, Blinken called that statement "in-artful" but declined to entertain the idea that lawmakers would vote down the administration's plan.

"This is not some kind of political ploy," he said of allowing the legislative branch a vote. "This is because what we heard from Congress is that they wanted in on this. And we thought it would actually make us better of if they supported it."

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