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Senate Foreign Relations chairman: 'Gitmo's not going to close'

GOP Sen. Bob Corker said that would be the case unless President Obama issues an executive order, something he’s opposed to. The senator on Wednesday also commented on the challenging situation in Syria.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor
Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker speaks with reporters at a Monitor Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016.

The United States and Russia may have just negotiated a Syrian cease-fire to start on Saturday, but don’t expect hostilities to stop before the Russians bring the Syrian opposition to its knees, said Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee at a Monitor breakfast on Wednesday.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee echoes top US military and intelligence officials who are deeply skeptical of the cease-fire. The Syrian regime accepted the agreement on Tuesday, but says it can still go after terrorists. Syria and its ally Russia view the Syrian opposition – backed by the US and its allies – as terrorists.

“I think Russia will cease activity once they’ve done everything they need to do” on the ground, Senator Corker said at the breakfast with reporters.

When asked what his Plan B for Syria might look like were he to become secretary of State under the next president – Corker is one name being bandied about – the senator said that the situation, given Russia’s military involvement, is now “very difficult” because it would involve a direct conflict with Russia.

Still, he said there is “potential” for more sanctions against Russia and “potential” to lead a stronger ground effort. But Russia’s weakening of the opposition “is close to over now. That’s what makes Plan B so difficult, and that’s why there’s likely not going to be one” – despite a lot of “hubris about bloodying Russia’s nose” coming out of the Pentagon.

On other subjects, Corker faulted President Obama for a lack of clarity and detail in his plan to close the Guantánamo prison for terror detainees, which the president sent to Congress on Tuesday. Unless Mr. Obama issues an executive order, which the senator hopes will not happen, “Gitmo’s not going to close.”

He was more hopeful about another Obama proposal – to lift the decades-long embargo on Cuba – but not this year, he said. The lifting would require congressional approval, and given the gradual opening between the two countries, “it’s something that could happen as we move into the new president.”

But Cuba needs to improve its human rights record, Corker said. “A lot of it has to do with how Cuba behaves.”

The senator plans to meet Wednesday afternoon with the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, with whom he plans to be “as terse as one can be” with a foreign minister. He criticized China’s “consume and take” foreign policy and said it fails to be a responsible player on the world stage.

US sanctions aimed at North Korea for its recent nuclear detonation and long-range missile test also are aimed at China, which holds the key to North Korea, he said. The senator said the purpose of the sanctions, passed by Congress, was not unlike those against Iran – to build momentum for international sanctions.

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