Catherine Thompson is a news writer for Talking Points Memo. Before joining TPM, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett and interned at The L Magazine. At New York University she served as the deputy managing editor of NYU's student newspaper, The Washington Square News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dismissed evidence the United States and France said shows his regime used chemical weapons on Syrian civilians, warning that any planned military response could result in a "regional war."
In excerpts from an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro published Monday, Assad suggested it was illogical to think his army would have employed chemical weapons on Aug. 21 in Damascus, where its own soldiers were stationed.
"Someone who makes accusations needs proof," Assad said, as translated by Al Jazeera. "We challenged the U.S. and France to show us proof. Mr. Obama and Hollande were incapable even when asked to do so by their own peoples."
As for his response to a potential military strike on his country, Assad compared the Middle East to a "powder keg" and told Le Figaro that a first strike from the West could prompt responses from other corners of the region.
"Everyone will lose control of the situation when the powder keg explodes," he said, as translated by Al Jazeera. "Chaos and extremism will be widespread. The risk of a regional war exists."
Secretary of State John Kerry told House Democrats on Monday that the decision whether or not to authorize a military response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime's use of chemical weapons was a "Munich moment" for the United States, Politico reported.
Democratic sources on the 70-minute conference call told Politico that Kerry called Assad a "two-bit dictator" who will "continue to act with impunity." The secretary of state urged lawmakers to support President Barack Obama's decision to use force against Syria in the form of "limited, narrow" strikes, reminding them that Israel would back a U.S. military response, according to the sources.
While House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) voiced support for the White House position on the call, sources told Politico that not all participants were receptive to Kerry's message. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-MN) and Kerry reportedly got into a "heated exchange" when Nolan challenged evidence the Obama administration presented last week to support its claim that the Assad regime used chemical weapons against Syrian civilians.
The Navy aircraft carrier USS Nimitz has moved into the Red Sea but has not received orders to participate in planning for a limited U.S. military strike on Syria, ABC News reported Monday.
A U.S. official confirmed to ABC News that early Monday the Nimitz, along with four other ships, moved into the Red Sea to "maximize available options," although it has not been assigned a mission. Reuters first reported Sunday that the Nimitz and its strike group were headed towards the Red Sea from their previous position in the Indian Ocean to support a strike if needed.
There are now five U.S. destroyers in position in the eastern Mediterranean, according to ABC News, which U.S. officials said would likely carry out any limited cruise missile strikes.
Pope Francis reflected on the current state of world affairs Sunday and Monday on his Twitter account, praying for peace as news about the United States' efforts to garner international support for a military strike on Syria dominated weekend headlines.
Let us pray for peace: peace in the world and in each of our hearts.
Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) on Monday called a self-imposed "red line" by President Barack Obama's on the use of chemical weapons in Syria "embarrassing," firmly arguing that American troops should not be reeled into the conflict.
Asked by MSNBC host Mara Schiavocampo whether he was concerned that not authorizing a military strike would send the wrong message to Syria, the New York Democrat said "I love Obama," but a president drawing a red line that could potentially lead the nation to war was "unheard of."
"So, of course, it’s embarrassing," Rangel said. "I wish it didn’t happen. I guess Secretary [John] Kerry is even more embarrassed than me after making his emotional speech that this was urgent."
Rangel added that he was glad Obama decided to give Congress the opportunity to debate a military strike before ordering one himself.
"During those discussions, I hope that other people in the international community would come forward and take this great decision off of the Congress, because we have to make it," he said. "Take it off of the Congress and provide some solution where we are not putting our kids in harm’s way to solve an international problem that we feel bounded, not by law, but because the president has drawn a red line."
Syria is calling on the United Nations to prevent "any aggression on Syria" following President Barack Obama's decision to use force in response to a chemical weapons attack in Damascus last month, Reuters reported Monday.
Syrian Ambassador to the U.N. Bashar Ja'afari wrote in a letter to U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon and President of the Security Council Maria Perceval that the U.N. Security Council should "maintain its role as a safety valve to prevent the absurd use of force out of the frame of international legitimacy," according to state news agency SANA.
Ja'afari also wrote that the U.S. should "play its role, as a peace sponsor and as a partner to Russia in the preparation for the international conference on Syria and not as a state that uses force against whoever opposes its policies," as quoted by Reuters.
President Barack Obama plans to meet with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) Monday at the White House in an attempt to drum up support for limited military strikes against Syria, The Hill reported.
McCain and Graham released a joint statement on Saturday that expressed their support for military action while cautioning that they believe isolated military strikes don't go far enough to deter the Assad regime.
"However, we cannot in good conscience support isolated military strikes in Syria that are not part of an overall strategy that can change the momentum on the battlefield, achieve the President's stated goal of Assad's removal from power, and bring an end to this conflict, which is a growing threat to our national security interests," the statement read. "Anything short of this would be an inadequate response to the crimes against humanity that Assad and his forces are committing."
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Friday agreed with an assessment on the Syrian regime's use of chemical weapons delivered by Secretary of State John Kerry, stating the "heinous attack" must not pass without a "meaningful response" from the international community.
"I listened carefully to what Secretary Kerry had to say and believe his remarks should stir the conscience of the world," Feinstein said in a written statement. "He pointed out the high confidence our government has that this was a chemical weapons attack, that it was directed by the Assad regime and that it killed 1,429 people, including at least 426 children."
“The unclassified intelligence assessment released today tracks closely with briefings I have received over the past week," the statement continued. "I agree with Secretary Kerry that the world cannot let such a heinous attack pass without a meaningful response, and I hope the international community will take appropriate action.”
The British government approached the New York Times about destroying documents it obtained pertaining to the National Security Agency's British intelligence partner Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, Reuters reported Friday.
People familiar with the matter told Reuters that Times executive editor Jill Abramson stonewalled the request from a senior official at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C. British officials never followed up on the request, the sources said.
A spokesman for the British Embassy in Washington told Reuters that the British government would not "get into the specifics about our efforts but it should come as no surprise if we approach a person who is in possession of some or all of this material."
"We have presented a witness statement to the court in Britain which explains why we are trying to secure copies of over 58,000 stolen intelligence documents - to protect public safety and our national security," the spokesman added.
A spokeswoman for the Times declined to comment.
Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, revealed earlier this month that U.K. security agents entered that newspaper's offices to destroy hard drives that may have contained information from Snowden's leaks.