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Rothfus on Syria: Military isn't for sending messages

| Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013, 7:39 a.m.

U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus said Monday he supports using diplomatic efforts, not missile strikes, to end chemical attacks in Syria, and prosecuting those responsible with a war-crimes tribunal.

“You don't use your military to send a message. You use it to win conflicts,” Rothfus, a Republican from Sewickley, said in a meeting with Tribune-Review editors and reporters.

U.N. inspectors announced there was “clear and convincing evidence” that chemical weapons were used in an Aug. 21 attack that killed hundreds in Damascus. Inspectors didn't say who was responsible.

A deal with Russian officials appears to have averted military strikes. It gives Syria a week to inventory its chemical weapons program and remove components from the country or destroy them by mid-2014.

“We need to be deliberate, methodic, forceful, and lay out to the world what the situation is and what the ramifications might be” if Syria violates the agreement, Rothfus said. He said the United States should pressure Syrian allies.

“I think (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and Russia need to be pushed to make sure that whatever agreements are reached are going to be carried out. We still need to look to make sure that those who perpetrated the crime are held responsible,” said Rothfus, a freshman who represents Beaver County and parts of Allegheny, Cambria, Lawrence, Somerset and Westmoreland counties.

A spokesman for the campaign of retired Marine Col. John Hugya of Somerset County, a Democratic candidate for the district seat, said Congress dragged its feet and failed to show leadership.

“Col. Hugya was disappointed in this Congress for not taking decisive action, whether it be military or diplomatic engagement, and that the president wasn't supported in this endeavor,” said Michael Duga.

Another Democratic challenger, New Kensington's Erin McClelland, who directs a drug-and-alcohol treatment center, did not return a message. Neither did Marine Corps veteran Larry Stiles of Johnstown, who will face Rothfus in next year's GOP primary.

Tom Fontaine is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or tfontaine@tribweb.com. The Associated Press contributed.

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