This is an old fashioned ultimatum and gives us some insight into the president's plans if Congress refuses to grant him authorization to attack Syria.
Or not.The State Department immediately undercut Kerry's words, leading to confusion about what Kerry was really saying.
Does Kerry know something we don't? Or did he just commit the US to action without the president's approval?
The US secretary of state has said that President Bashar al-Assad has one week to hand over his entire stock of chemical weapons to avoid a military attack. But John Kerry added that he had no expectation that the Syrian leader would comply.
Kerry also said he had no doubt that Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack in east Damascus on 21 August, saying that only three people are responsible for the chemical weapons inside Syria - Assad, one of his brothers and a senior general. He said the entire US intelligence community was united in believing Assad was responsible.
Kerry was speaking on Monday alongside the UK foreign secretary, William Hague, who was forced to deny that he had been pushed to the sidelines by the House of Commons decision 10 days ago to reject the use of UK force in Syria.
The US Senate is due to vote this week on whether to approve an attack and Kerry was ambivalent over whether Barack Obama would use his powers to ignore the legislative chamber, if it were to reject an attack.
The US state department stressed that Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the one-week deadline and unlikelihood of Assad turning over Syria's chemical weapons stockpile. In a statement, the department added: "His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That's why the world faces this moment."
Kerry said the US had tracked the Syrian chemical weapons stock for many years, adding that it "was controlled in a very tight manner by the Assad regime ... Bashar al-Assad and his brother Maher al-Assad, and a general are the three people that have the control over the movement and use of chemical weapons.
"But under any circumstances, the Assad regime is the Assad regime, and the regime issues orders, and we have regime members giving these instructions and engaging in these preparations with results going directly to President Assad.
"We are aware of that so we have no issue here about responsibility. They have a very threatening level of stocks remaining."
Incredible. "His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago." No, his point was that he was giving Assad a week to turn them over or face attack. Sounds like an ultimatum to me. The climb down by the state department is awkward and strained. This is not a "rhetorical argument." This is real life, where the big boys and girls play hard and do no suffer fools.
Reuters reports that Kerry really didn't mean it:
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid a U.S. military strike by surrendering all his chemical weapons within a week, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday, but immediately made clear he was not making a serious offer.
When asked by a reporter in London whether there was anything Assad's government could do or offer to stop a military strike, Kerry answered:
"Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week - turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting (of it), but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done."
Looks like another Emily Latella moment for the Obama administration ("Never mind.")