Washington (CNN) – Sen. John McCain expressed exasperation with the White House's handling of Syria Tuesday morning while saying that a potential handover of chemical weapons needs to be considered.
The longtime senator from Arizona, a leading Republican voice in calls for military action against Syria, told CNN that he was extremely skeptical of the intentions of the government in Damascus to hand over or destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles, as well as Russia's intentions to facilitate such a move. But he didn't dismiss it out of hand.
"The fact is you that can't pass up this opportunity if it is one. But you've got to right away determine whether it's real or not," McCain told CNN's Chris Cuomo on "New Day."
McCain said that there is a group of senators working on an amendment to the Senate bill seeking to authorize strikes that would allow for a handover. The amendment would allow "for this kind of action and requires guidelines, reporting process and benchmarks that have to be met," he said.
All told, the Arizona Republican was highly critical of how the Syria situation has been handled by the Obama administration. The White House has shown "a degree of incoherence that I have never seen the likes of," McCain said.
McCain pointed out Secretary of State John Kerry's statement that a strike would be "unbelievably small." "What does that mean?" McCain said.
The United States needs to show international leadership, McCain said. "If the President of the United States says there's a red line and then when the red line is crossed repeatedly and we don't act then there is no credibility," he said.
McCain said he understood Americans' trepidations with a strike against Syria because of the incoherence of administration efforts. He asserted that Syria is not another Iraq War, which he said was badly mishandled. McCain supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
President Barack Obama's efforts to seek congressional approval of a strike against the military forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad have stumbled in the last week.
A blitz of speeches, interviews and congressional testimony by senior officials have sought to make the case for deterring and degrading Syria's ability to carry out chemical weapons attacks like the one believed to have been launched against Syrian opposition forces and civilians last month. More than 1,400 people are believed to have died in the attack.
The narrative of a U.S. strike turned on its head Monday when Kerry answered a question on how Syria might avert a strike by saying it could turn over its entire chemical weapons arsenal, an arsenal Assad has never admitted he has. Russia quickly jumped on Kerry's statement by proposing that Syria place all its chemical weapons under international control.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem accepted the proposal Tuesday, according to the Interfax news agency.
Obama will likely speak to all of these developments when he addresses the nation from the White House Tuesday night. He has already said the handover proposal is a "potentially positive development."
For his part, McCain said he and the American people need to hear from the president that the opportunity for a handover will be explored. According to McCain, the feasibility of the handover could be determined very quickly, provided Syria accepts international monitors.
McCain has been extremely skeptical of Russia in the past, calling President Vladimir Putin an "old KGB colonel apparatchik."
The 2008 Republican presidential nominee has been ever more vocal in his criticism of Assad and his support of the rebels seeking to oust him.
"I still support arming the Free Syrian Army," McCain said Tuesday. "I strongly support it, because I believe a negotiated settlement can only be achieved for the departure of Bashar Assad if the momentum has changed in this situation."