Warily, McCain Supports Russian Plan for Syria’s Chemical Weapons

McCain says he thinks Russia and Syria may just be stalling, but ‘you have to give it every chance’

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Republican Senator John McCain told TIME on Monday that the U.S. “can’t say no” to the Russian proposal that Syria hand over its chemical weapons and submit to United Nations inspections, though he believes that the move is “just a stalling tactic.”

“If there is an international [agreement], if you have the guidelines, the requirements, the reporting, the dates— all of that guided by a very detailed resolution to the UN Security Council, I think that you can’t say no to it even though I’m very dubious that this is a real proposal,” McCain said in a phone interview. “I think it’s just a stalling tactic but to reject it out of hand is obviously not something that you can do.”

McCain’s remarks come hours after Secretary of State John Kerry floated a solution where Syria gives up its chemical weapons stockpiles in order to avoid U.S. punitive strikes. Up until today Syria has refused to even acknowledge it has chemical weapons. Assad is accused of gassing anywhere from 400 to 1,400 Syrians in a chemical attack last month. “I tell you the main reason why Bashar Assad ain’t going to do it is because he needs them, he’s been using them,” McCain said. “This isn’t the first time that he’s used them. There have been at least 10 times documented that he used them before. But to reject [the Russian deal] out of hand obviously is not something that we can do.”

McCain, the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, has been the lead Republican pushing a Senate resolution giving President Obama the ability to use force in Syria against Assad’s regime. The resolution has been greeted with skepticism from factions of both parties and is facing an uphill battle, particularly in the House. “The lesson here I think is obviously they wouldn’t be agreeing to this proposal, as flimsy as it may be, if it hadn’t been for a threat of a strike,” McCain said. “So that lesson should not be lost on my colleagues who are against it.”