Sen. McCain sees agreement with Russia as blow to credibility

U.S. Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the recent agreement between Russia and the U.S. to rid Bashar al-Assad's Syrian regime of chemical weapons will serve as a blow to U.S. credibility.

McCain made the remarks on Tuesday during the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. McCain made multiple critiques of the way President Barack Obama's administration handled the situation and said the U.S. has little leverage to force Assad to comply with the agreement.

"Let's recall that this Russian initiative first arose as both houses of Congress appeared ready to reject the President's proposed military strikes in Syria, which called into question how credible that threat of force really was," McCain said. "So it is hard to maintain that the administration entered into this agreement from a position of strength. No one trusts Assad's sincerity. And there is little reason to have more faith in Russia, especially when (Russian) President (Vladimir) Putin himself still insists that the Syrian opposition was responsible for the August 21 attack."

McCain said the Obama administration seems to have given up on immediately codifying the terms of the agreement with the U.N. Security Council. He said Russia would only agree to a resolution in which Assad would receive a less severe penalty than the threat of force and only after Assad violates the agreement.

"That is a major climb down for an administration that was ready to launch airstrikes three weeks ago," McCain said. "And it is an even worse blow to those stalwart U.S. allies who were prepared to act with us. Under these circumstances, what leverage do we have to force Assad's compliance when he starts to lie, and cheat, and delay, using every trick in Saddam Hussein's playbook? Not much, it appears."

McCain also criticized the agreement for saying nothing about the underlying conflict in Syria that claimed close to 110,000 lives.

"That is the larger problem with the Russian chemical weapons initiative: It will in no way help to bring the conflict in Syria to the negotiated end that we seek," McCain said.

McCain said Americans must be told what's at stake in Syria, a failed state in the Middle East that could become a major site for Al-Qaeda and terrorist allies.