Accidental Diplomacy? Analyzing Kerry's Off-the-Cuff Remark

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague during a news conference in London, United Kingdom on September 9, 2013. (U.S. Department of State/flickr)

President Barack Obama addressed the nation last night, renewing calls that something must be done to stop the regime of Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons again against the Syrian people.

"When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory," President Obama said during his prime time address. "But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America, and the international community, is prepared to do about it. Because what happened to those people—to those children—is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security."

President Obama said that he has asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while the U.S. government pursues a diplomatic path.

But it was a comment by Secretary of State John Kerry, a seemingly off-the-cuff remark, that radically changed the possibilities for an American intervention in Syria. 

"He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons in the next week - turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow a full and total accounting before that, but he isn't about to do it," said Secretary Kerry on Monday of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a joint news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Though the State Department quickly described Kerry's remark as a "rhetorical argument," Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavov pounced on the idea. By the mid-afternoon on Monday, even as National Security Adviser Susan Rice argued for an American strike in Syria at the New America Foundation, a diplomatic solution seemed possible.

Leslie Gelb, president emeritus and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, explores the implications of Secretary Kerry's "accidental diplomacy," and analyzes President Obama's prime time speech. 


Leslie H. Gelb

Produced by:

Jillian Weinberger


T.J. Raphael

Comments [5]

It's clear that Kerry was not speaking off the cuff. Press reports confirm that Putin and Obama discussed "options" in St. Petersburg last week. Then, Monday night on PBS with Gwen Ifill, President Obama acknowledged these discussions had taken place and that Kerry's idea was one of these options. Finally, EU officials also discussed with the press having heard this proposal from Kerry. All these conversations took place "before" kerry"s so-called 'accidental" remarks.

Sep. 11 2013 03:18 PM
Ed from Larchmont

There was a Jewish group that was studying word patterns in the Bible, they concluded that the weapons had been moved to Syria. Hmm.

Sep. 11 2013 03:17 PM
Ed from Larchmont

They might have talked about it, but it doesn't seem they were planning on proposing it.

Sep. 11 2013 03:10 PM

The entire Obama presidency now seems to be a kind of a Pink Panther movie.

Where Barack Obama is Inspector Clouseau; stumbling and bumbling his way through an incredible series of errors and wrongheaded moves that result in all around him suffering mayhem and crackups and other disasters, while the main character naively wanders along, immune to all of the messes he leaves in his wake.

In my analogy, we the people are cast in the Chief Inspector Dreyfus role; asking all of the right questions, demanding all the right answers and responses, and getting hit on the head for our troubles in doing so.

Meanwhile, our national press corps enjoys the role of the movie audience in the Pink Panther series; marveling at the impossible survival of the Clouseau character, and laughing at the unstoppability of their hero.

Truly; the Obama Admninistration has turned the White House into the theatre of the absurd.

Sep. 11 2013 09:59 AM
Gerd Printz

Mr. Gelb seemed to be somewhat uninformed. Kerry's remark was not completely off the cuff. The idea had been discussed previously by Obama and Putin as far back as the Cabo meeting last year.

Sep. 11 2013 09:54 AM

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