Welch, Sanders cautiously optimistic about Russian proposal to avert Syria strike

Russia’s offer to take control of Syria’s chemical weapons might be a way out of the crisis if it proves to be “real,” Rep. Peter Welch told callers during a telephone town hall meeting Monday night.

According to Welch, at least 5,000 Vermonters dialed in Monday night, though just over a dozen had time to weigh in during the hour-long phone call.

Rep. Peter Welch talks to small business owners in Burlington on Monday, July 8, 2013, about federal and state health care reform. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Rep. Peter Welch talks to small business owners in Burlington on July 8. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

Callers wanted to know what Welch thought of Russia’s proposal to take possession of the Bashar al-Assad regime’s chemical weapon stockpile in lieu of a U.S.-led military strike.

President Barack Obama expressed guarded optimism for the proposal, which surfaced Monday, and news arrived Tuesday morning that Assad has agreed to the potential arrangement.

Welch, when answering questions Monday night, struck a similar balance between hope and skepticism. “Obviously, all of us hope it’s [Russia’s offer] real and not bogus,” Welch said.

During a PBS interview Monday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said “My sense is that it is really good news.”

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., was also optimistic, saying in a statement:

“It is encouraging that President Obama’s strong condemnation of Bashar al-Assad’s heinous war crime apparently has moved Syria toward conciliation on its chemical weapons stockpile. Everyone seems to be taking a deep breath. But we need to see verifiable action by the Syrian regime to relinquish control of its chemical weapons arsenal and agreement to other conditions. It is appropriate that the President intends to call on the United Nations to help broker a solution that can be agreed to by all governments of conscience.”

ABC News reported Tuesday that Russia plans to introduce a U.N. resolution that would put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and prepare them for destruction.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, spoke on veterans' health care at his offices in Burlington on Monday, Aug. 19, 2013. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Sen. Bernie Sanders. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

The potential third option could allow the U.S. to avoid military action without appearing to turn a blind eye to the alleged chemical weapon attack. And it would free Welch from what’s he’s described as a “wrenching decision” — one that requires a choice between backing Obama and supporting a strike or voting in line with what the majority of his constituents, by his own account, want him to do, and vote against it.

Welch repeatedly lauded Obama’s decision to ask Congress for a vote, and credited the president’s “restraint” with helping bring about the offer from Russia.

Welch also emphasized the weight he’s giving to Vermonters’ views. “My vote is your vote. I work for you.”

A couple of hours before the call, Welch, along with other House members, was briefed on Syria by Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The congressman didn’t have much new to say Monday evening, and he didn’t appear any closer to coming down for or against a strike against Syria.

“I gotta tell you, I believe the intelligence,” Welch said. The most convincing piece of information, he said, is the “indisputable” evidence that the weapons were launched from Assad-held territory into rebel-held territory.

Welch reiterated one of his key concerns — whether or not a strike could be effective — but he also downplayed the importance of the military intelligence he’s privy to, and he thanked Vermonters for raising “practical kinds of questions.”

“This does not come down to intelligence. … It comes down to common sense judgment,” he said.

Callers, among them a Vietnam veteran and a woman with a grandson who has done two tours in Afghanistan, pled with Welch to oppose military involvement in Syria.

The discussion also turned tactical at points. A caller, identified as Steve from South Wallingford, suggested that a strike, though once plausible, has been deliberated too long and in too high profile of a way to be effective. “It should have happened immediately,” he said.

Welch agreed that was possible, speculating that, “He’s [Assad] obviously had plenty of time to move his equipment around and put it in safe places, and safe places are probably in civilian neighborhoods.”

Toward the end of the call, after nearly an hour of hashing out benefits and drawbacks of military action, a woman, identified as Margaret from Middlebury, returned to Russia’s offer as a possible solution to the U.S.’ dilemma.

“Let’s hope that Russian offer is real,” Welch agreed.

Alicia Freese


  1. Jim Christiansen :

    So turning over chemical weapons after you have used them to kill people gives you a pass to keep killing people with conventional weapons. Brilliant.

    This is what passes for leadership in Vermont and Washington?

    What a mess.

  2. rosemarie jackowski :

    Just some clarification here. Welch called the people. I was one of them. I did not call him.

    Also, at one point I believe that I heard Welch say that the USA never used chemical weapons. What about White Phosphorus in Fallujah, what about Waco, what about Napalm, what about Depleted Uranium… I urge everyone to check the photos of the babies. Just Google ‘Photos of babies born to mothers exposed to DU’. See what your tax money is doing.

    If the Congressman is uninformed on this issue, it is our responsibility to get the correct information to him. ASAP.

  3. Linda Quackenbush :

    “What difference does it make” says former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a Congressional interrogatory referring to a timeline that led to the deaths of 4 Americans slain in Benghazi, Libya on 9-11-12.

    The US government turned a blind eye on military support to Christopher Stevens and three brave Americans who were under attack. These brave souls died because our government denied them support… Yet they want US to support a war with Syria…Absolutely disgusting cowardly governance…

  4. rosemarie jackowski :
  5. Franklin Lambert :

    Welch is either uninformed or is deliberately misleading his constituents, presumably the latter, as the United States government has been lying to the public (and world) for more years than most people can imagine.

    Our nefarious Uncle Sam, or fear-mongers like Mr. Welch and the despicable John Kerry, a front man for Israel, have created a “crisis” which they initiated in the first place for nothing other than territorial expansion for oil pipelines and more imperial military bases in that part of the globe.

    Ms Jackowski has it right, regarding chemical weapons used by the American military, along with dropping two atomic bombs on civilian men, women, children, and babies. Welch/Kerry/Obama are what is called “the pot calling the kettle black”

    • Linda Quackenbush :

      Shouldn’t Vladamir Putin be addressing the American people tonight? He’s in more control of American foreign policy than the whole American government….

  6. Kathy Nelson :

    “The most convincing piece of information, he said, is the “indisputable” evidence that the weapons were launched from Assad-held territory into rebel-held territory.”

    The Assad regime and the Al Qaeda terrorists have been launching weapons at each other for over a year now. Did Mr. Welch think to ask for a date confirmation of what the intelligence people were showing him? Everything our congress people have been shown by Obama’s intelligence people must be independently verified or remain disputed. Mr.Kerry recently used photos taken during the Iraq war, claimed they were taken in Syria, and used them to promote an attack on Syria. Is that good and indisputable intelligence?
    The only thing that is “indisputable” here is that the American people, that includes the people of Vermont, do not want to start a war in Syria.

  7. The regions history and the US position regarding chemical weapons is contradictory at best, hypocritical at worst.
    Like the overwhelming majority of Americans, I oppose military intervention for numerous reasons, many of which were discussed during last night’s illuminating Town Meeting conference call.
    Peter Welch mentioned the law of unintended consequences; there’s no way to predict the outcome and inevitably more civilians and children would perish. Mission creep ensues… and our military is hugely overburdened as it is.
    Many hawks see Syria as a stepping stone to reach the real target, Iran.
    And no re-election to worry about now.
    Obama said, “We are not the world’s policeman”. Then let’s stop acting like one.

    The US Has No Credibility Dealing With Chemical Weapons


    “Indeed, neither of the world’s two largest recipients of US military aid – Israel and Egypt – is a party to the convention either. Never has Congress or any administration of either party called on Israel or Egypt to disarm their chemical weapons arsenals, much less threatened sanctions for their failure to do so. US policy, therefore, appears to be that while it is legitimate for its allies Israel and Egypt to refuse to ratify this important arms control convention, Syria needed to be singled out for punishment for its refusal.
    A case can be made, then, that had the United States pursued a policy that addressed the proliferation of nonconventional weapons through region-wide disarmament rather than trying to single out Syria, the Syrian regime would have rid itself of its chemical weapons some years earlier, along with Israel and Egypt, and the government’s apparent use of such ordnance and the resulting rush to war would have never happened.”



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