Secretary of State John Kerry and other top White House officials on Thursday evening will brief congressional lawmakers about potential military action in Syria, a State Department spokesperson, but the briefing will be limited to unclassified information.
Spokesperson Marie Harf said Kerry will be joined on the 6 p.m. conference call by President Obama’s National Security Advisor, Susan Rice, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No classified information will be discussed on the call because of security concerns, Harf said. Lawmakers on the call will include the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate panels that oversee national security, she said.
Questions were being raised Thursday about the evidence that Syrian President Bashar Assad ordered or knew of the use of chemical weapons against his own people. But Harf said top congressional leaders, including the chair and ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, agree with the White House assessment that the Syrian government used those weapons.
The briefing won't satisfy all lawmakers. More than 100 of them signed a letter calling Obama to seek congressional authorization before initiating any military action in Syria.
“Obviously the views of Congress are important in this process,” Harf said. “Our conversations with Congress have been extremely detailed. There’s a lot we can talk about at an unclassified level about what happened here. It will be a good discussion.”
“This meeting tonight does not represent the breadth of our conversations with Congress,” Harf said, adding that White House officials have held some classified briefings with top lawmakers on the House and Senate intelligence panels.
Harf said Obama “hasn’t made any decisions yet” about a military strike and will factor in the position of our allies, including the United Kingdom, which has wavered on whether to join in a military action.
Harf also sought to knock down comparisons being made between the Syria situation Obama faces and the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war. Bush officials insisted at the time that military intervention was necessary because Iraq was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction, a claim that later proved false. Harf said it was clear that Assad has the weapons and used them.
“Iraq and Syria are in no way analogous and we are not considering analogous responses in any way,” Harf said. “Nobody is talking about an Iraq-style intervention.”