The Cable

Graham calls for American boots on the ground in Syria

In the face of new reports alleging chemical weapons use in Syria, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called Tuesday for the United States to put American troops inside Syria to secure the WMD sites there.

The Syrian regime and the Syrian rebels have each accused the other of using chemical weapons in a rocket attack in Aleppo province that killed at least 25 people. A Reuters photographer at a hospital receiving victims of the attack relayed that victims "said that people were suffocating in the streets and the air smelt strongly of chlorine." The Russian Foreign Ministry immediately backed the regime's claim that the rebels had used chemical weapons.

Graham told The Cable in an interview Tuesday that whether or not the attack can be confirmed as the first use of chemical weapons in the 24-month Syrian civil war, the United States must devise and implement a plan to secure Syrian chemical weapons sites and deploy U.S. troops to do it if necessary.

"My biggest fear beyond an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is the chemical weapons in Syria falling in the hands of extremists and Americans need to lead on this issue. We need to come up with a plan to secure these weapons sites, either in conjunction with our partners [or] if nothing else by ourselves," Graham said.

Asked if he would support sending U.S. troops inside Syria for the mission, Graham said yes.

"Absolutely, you've got to get on the ground. There is no substitute for securing these weapons," he said. "I don't care what it takes. We need partners in the region. But I'm here to say, if the choice is to send in troops to secure the weapons sites versus allowing chemical weapons to get in the hands of some of the most violent people in the world, I vote to cut this off before it becomes a problem."

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that the U.S. government is still evaluating the intelligence from Syria, but downplayed the regime's accusation.

"We have no evidence to substantiate the charge that the opposition has used chemical weapons. We are deeply skeptical of a regime that has lost all credibility. And we would also warn the regime against making these kinds of charges as any kind of pretext or cover for its use of chemical weapons," Carney said.

"We are evaluating the charges that are being made and the allegations, consulting closely with our partners, in the region and in the international community," he added.

President Barack Obama has said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a red line for the United States, but Carney refused to say what the administration would do if the use of chemical weapons was confirmed.

"I wouldn't care to speculate about what consequences would take place if it were to be found that the regime had used chemical weapons," Carney said. "But on the general principle, the president made very clear that the use of chemical weapons, and I quote, ‘is and would be totally unacceptable.' And he warned the Syrian regime in particular that ‘there will be consequences, and you will be held accountable.'"

Graham said that regardless of whether chemicals weapons use in Syria can be confirmed, the United States needs to step up its contingency planning for such an event and proactively implement a strategy to secure the sites now.

"I can confirm the fact that the chemical weapons are all over Syria and if somebody doesn't plan how to secure these weapons they are going to work their way back to the U.S. and around the world, that I can promise you," he said. "If there was a chemical weapons attack today, that is a change in the conducting of the war and it should remind us what's available in Syria and what would we risk as a nation if these weapons fall into the wrong hands. And they are going to and somebody has to do something about it and that somebody has to be us."

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

The Cable

Sudan group launches preemptive strike against possible special envoy pick

The Obama administration is getting close to nominating a new special envoy to Sudan, but a major Sudan advocacy organization is asking Secretary of State John Kerry not to nominate former U.S. Ambassador to Sudan Tim Carney.

The advocacy group's effort to squash the Carney nomination before it even exists is rare; NGOs usually wait until someone is nominated before they express public opposition. But in this case, Act for Sudan is hoping to head off the Carney pick before it materializes.

The Washington-based group's action reflects a broader ongoing frustration with the administration's Sudan policy and the enduring legacy of Obama's first Sudan envoy, Scott Gration, who clashed with advocates who saw him as too solicitous of the regime in Khartoum.

Informed sources tell The Cable that Carney is one of two finalists being considered to replace Princeton Lyman, the special envoy who followed Gration. The other finalist is former Ambassador to Indonesia Cameron Hume.

"It has come to our attention that former U.S. Ambassador to Sudan, Timothy Carney, is being considered for the position of Special Envoy," Act for Sudan wrote in a March 19 letter to Kerry.  "While Ambassador Carney has experience in Sudan, we are concerned that his publicly stated advice and guidance with regard to U.S. policy on Sudan will prolong the suffering of the Sudanese people and will undermine U.S. objectives to support a just peace and stable democracies in Sudan and South Sudan, which ultimately are in the best interest of the U.S. and the international community."

Act for Sudan referenced a February 2009 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, chaired by Kerry, where Carney argued for several measures that the group feels would reward and benefit Sudan President Omar al-Bashir, who has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court. Carney proposed deferring the ICC warrant, sending an ambassador to Khartoum and removing Sudan from the State Department's list of state sponsors of terrorism. He opposed efforts to isolate Bashir.

Kerry said at the same hearing that "the players in Darfur, the South and the North all understand that there is going to be a very different effort to galvanize action over the course of the next months and year and this is a moment for serious people to buckle down and find some serious responses."

Hume, before serving as ambassador to Indonesia, also held diplomatic posts in Italy, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, the United Nations, and the Holy See. More recently he has served as ambassador to Algeria and to South Africa, and as chargé d'affaires to Sudan.

Last December, a coalition of Sudan advocacy groups wrote to President Barack Obama to ask him to take several additional steps to combat the ongoing violence in Sudan.

"Given the serious human rights violations and national security concerns the U.S. has with regard to Sudan and given the opportunity for positive democratic change that is developing among Sudanese opposition groups and civil society, the new Special Envoy should reflect a more robust policy," Act for Sudan wrote Monday. "We strongly believe that Ambassador Carney is the wrong man for this critical job.  Instead, we hope that you will choose someone with the capabilities, perspective and stature of Russ Feingold, Richard Williamson, Howard Berman, or Tom Periello, to name a few."