Obama to explore diplomatic route on Syria chemical weapons
By Steve Holland and Jeff Mason, ReutersWASHINGTON - President Barack Obama pledged on Tuesday to explore a diplomatic plan from Russia to take away Syria's chemical weapons, but voiced skepticism about it and urged Americans to support his threat to use military force if needed.
September 11, 2013, 2:08 pm TWN
Faced with resistance in polls and Congress to the use of force against Syria, Obama said a Russian offer to pressure President Bashar al-Assad to place his government's chemical weapons under international control raised the chances of putting off the limited military strike that he is considering.
"Over the last few days, we've seen some encouraging signs," Obama said in televised speech from the White House that attempted to offer a clear case for why it is in Americans' interests to intervene in Syria's civil war.
Obama asked leaders in Congress to put off a vote on his request to authorize the use of military force to let diplomacy play out. He said U.S. Navy ships in the eastern Mediterranean and other forces in the region are in place and ready to respond should diplomacy fail.
The Russian initiative gave Obama some breathing space since it has been far from certain whether he would win a vote in Congress on attacking Syria in response to a chemical weapons attack last month that Washington has blamed on Assad's forces.
In a speech of only 16 minutes, Obama gave perhaps the most coherent expression of his Syria policy to date following weeks of muddled messages by his administration as opposition to a U.S. military strike mounted.
"If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons," said Obama. "As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them."
Under the threat of U.S. missile strikes and with roughly half of Syria controlled by rebels, the Assad government accepted the proposal from its ally Russia earlier on Tuesday.
"It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed. And any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad's strongest allies," said Obama.
He set no deadlines for diplomacy to run its course but said the United States will work with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his supplies of sarin, mustard gas and VX nerve agents. Russia and China have been reluctant to support action against Syria.