Shaheen Supports Syria Strike But Wants a Broader Strategy

  • Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, during the committee's confirmation hearing for UN Ambassador-designate, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/13/2017 11:55:16 PM
Modified: 4/13/2017 11:56:45 PM

Lebanon — U.S. Sen Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said on Thursday she supported President Donald Trump’s recent airstrikes on the Syrian government but wants the new administration to present a coherent wider strategy for the war-weary country.

“I supported the airstrikes,” Shaheen said in an interview after a visit to the Lebanon campus of River Valley Community College, a trip she made to highlight funding that Trump wants to cut.

“I think this was an appropriate response. Now, it needs to be done in the context of a broader strategy toward Syria, and we haven’t seen what that broader strategy is yet from the president,” she said.

Trump last week ordered missile strikes against a Syrian government airbase in response to sarin gas attacks that killed scores of people in a rebel-held town and allegedly were carried out by followers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The United States’ long-term strategy likely will have to involve a negotiated settlement to the civil war in Syria that will involve Russia, Iran and other regional powers — but not Assad, said Shaheen, who serves on the Senate’s Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees.

“Ultimately, Assad is going to have to go,” she said.

Shaheen noted that she also had supported President Barack Obama’s unsuccessful request to Congress for permission to use force in 2013, when the Syrian government first allegedly used toxic sarin gas against its own people.

Both then and now, Assad and his Russian allies denied that he was responsible for the gas attacks, which are barred by the Geneva convention. After the first attack, however, Russia did broker a deal to take away Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the country’s foreign minister, criticizing them sharply for supporting Assad and failing to keep him from using gas.

All the same, Shaheen was not ready to give full credit to Trump’s appointee, a former Exxon-Mobil CEO who has done business in Russia, or to make a final judgment on the administration’s handling of the often adversarial relationship with the former superpower.

“That remains to be seen,” she said. “The topic of Russia and this administration is a much bigger topic. I appreciate that it seems that the Trump administration is adopting a more maintream foreign policy approach to Russia.”

And although Shaheen supported Trump’s airstrikes, which he made unilaterally within hours of the gas attacks, she declined to say that Obama should have acted differently.

“That’s water over the dam,” she said. “...We’re where we are now, so the question is what do we do, going forward.”

Last week, Shaheen introduced bipartisan legislation that would compel the secretary of state to report on any potential war crimes in Syria. The bill, sponsored by Shaheen and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., among others, also would provide funding for investigations and a possible international tribunal to try Assad.

“This bill is an important step to ensure that Assad and his allies are held accountable for their acts of barbarism,” she said in a news release. “Over the last six years, Assad has committed crimes against humanity, torturing and killing women, children, and families. The people of Syria deserve justice.”

Shaheen came to Lebanon to visit River Valley Community College’s newest branch, which opened up last year on the former Lebanon College campus in the historic downtown district.

River Valley’s opening was financed by the Northern Border Regional Commission, a federal organization that dispenses grants in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine. Trump’s budget proposal would eliminate funding for that commission, a move that Shaheen and River Valley administrators oppose.

“We’re here to say there’s good things happening with these dollars,” Shaheen said, poking her head into a literature class meeting in the early afternoon. “We should continue.”

Earlier in the day, Shaheen visited Claremont for a tour and roundtable discussion at Costa Precision Manufacturing.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.




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