A hawkish Kerry emerges as point man in Obama's push to punish Syria

A hawkish Kerry emerges as point man in Obama's push to punish Syria
Secretary of State John Kerry.

WASHINGTON - When the Senate takes up whether to back White House plans to attack Syria, there may be few more effective or passionate lobbyists for the administration than Secretary of State John Kerry, who was a member of that exclusive club for 28 years.

Kerry last week described Syria's suspected use of chemical weapons as "a moral obscenity" and, in a separate appearance, called Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "a thug and a murderer."

According to people with knowledge of the administration's debates, Kerry has argued for a more muscular US involvement in the conflict even as he has been its point man on searching for a diplomatic solution.

"He has been much more open-minded about potential lethal action than others in the administration," said a former US official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The son of a US diplomat, Kerry came to the job of secretary of state after nearly three decades in the Senate, all of them on the Foreign Relations Committee, and a record as a Vietnam veteran.

That experience could come in handy as the White House makes its case to Congress for action on Syria in retaliation for the military's Aug. 21 attack that US officials say killed more than 1,400 people.

Kerry's strong remarks came on an issue where other top US officials, including President Barack Obama at times, have kept a lower profile.

Obama on Saturday said he believed that military force should be used against Syria but backed away from an imminent strike to seek the approval of Congress.

"The value of John Kerry getting out there to the president is that he can speak to that audience, and he can speak to the international audience, and he can speak to the American people," said Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution think tank.

In a sign Kerry will actively advance the president's approach, he was scheduled to appear on several major US television talk shows on Sunday morning.

The timing of a US response, most likely with cruise missiles from US Navy destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean, is unclear given the decision to seek congressional approval.

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