WASHINGTON — Secretary of State John Kerry refused to absolutely rule out the possibility of U.S. troops on the ground in Syria on Tuesday.
During a hearing on Syria in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, committee chairman Sen. Bob Menendez asked Kerry whether there would be any possibility of ground troops eventually entering Syria at some point.
The administration has "no desire" to do that, Kerry said.
But, "In the event Syria imploded for instance or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else and it was clearly in the interest of our allies — all of us, the British, the French, and others," Kerry said, "I don't want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to the president of the United States to secure our country."
Kerry quickly walked it back, saying, "The bottom line is, the president has no intention and will not, and we do not want to, put American troops on the ground to fight this, or be involved in the fighting of this civil war, period."
As it stands, the administration's proposal for Syria has consisted of limited air strikes that would take place over a few days.
Pressed on this point later by Sen.Bob Corker, Kerry said, "All I did was raise a hypothetical question about some possibility — and I'm thinking out loud — about how to protect America's interests."
"There will not be American boots on the ground with respect to the Syrian civil war," Kerry concluded, still not absolutely closing the door on the idea of American boots on the ground for another purpose.
Later, Kerry returned to the question, saying "I don't want anyone misinterpreting this from me earlier" and specifying that in the authorization of force proposed by the administration "there's zero capacity" for ground troops. Kerry reiterated that he was "hypothesizing" about potential future scenarios, "but not in this authorization."
"As Secretary Kerry made clear repeatedly during the hearing and over the last several months, the Administration is not considering and has no plans to consider boots on the ground in Syria," said State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki in an email to BuzzFeed. "Period."