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US Senate delays Syria strike vote over Russian 'chemical handover' proposal

Published time: September 09, 2013 22:18
Edited time: September 11, 2013 09:43

US President Barack Obama (AFP Photo)

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President Obama is willing to “absolutely” put on pause a military strike on Syria if Bashar Assad accepts Russia’s proposal to hand over control of the country’s chemical weapons to the international community.

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"Let's see if we can come up with language that avoids a strike but accomplishes our key goals to make sure that these chemical weapons are not used," Obama said in an ABC News interview with Diane Sawyer.

The US leader said that “he would consider this a modestly positive development" after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proposed surrendering the chemical stockpile to international observers to avoid a potential US military strike on Syria. Obama assured that US Secretary of State John Kerry would follow up on the proposal with Moscow.

The US Senate was set to vote on Wednesday whether to authorize President Obama to use "limited military action" against Syria. But following a day of debates, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced he would not file for a test vote on a resolution to strike Syria.

"I'm not going to file cloture this evening on the motion to proceed to the Syria resolution," he said on the Senate floor. 
"Tomorrow the president is going to brief the Democratic caucus and the Republican caucus separately."

"He's going to address the nation tomorrow night. As we all know, the international discussions continue relative to the matter in Syria. Normally, what I would do in a situation like this is file cloture today. But I don't think that's to our benefit. I don't think we need to see how fast we can do this. We have to see how well we can do this matter," Reid continued. 

Earlier on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said “We are calling on the Syrian authorities [to] not only agree on putting chemical weapons storages under international control, but also for its further destruction and then joining the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons."

Syria’s foreign minister announced that Damascus “welcomes” Russia’s solution to the stalemate.

“[The] Syrian Arab Republic welcomes Russia’s initiative, based on the Syrian’s government care about the lives of our people and security of our country,” Walid al-Muallem said in response to the proposal. 

Not yet time to ‘let up on possibility of military strike’

But in an interview with ABC, President Obama said that Capitol Hill would still seek to approve the military strike option.

"I don't think we would have gotten to this point unless we had maintained a credible possibility for a military strike and I don't think now is the time for us to let up on that," he said. 

Obama is continuing his diplomatic efforts to persuade American politicians to authorize a military strike on Syria, after the US and some of its allies accused the Syrian government of using chemical weapons against civilians during an August 21 attack near Damascus.  

"I don't anticipate that you would see a succession of votes this week or anytime in the immediate future," Obama said. "So I think there will be time during the course of the debates here in the United States for the international community, the Russians and the Syrians to work with us and say is there a way to resolve this."

In an interview to PBS Newshour on Monday, Obama told the audience that he discussed a potential diplomatic solution and a plan for Damascus to turn over its chemical weapons with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week.

"I did have those conversations. And this is a continuation of conversations I've had with President Putin for quite some time," Obama said during one of six interviews that he gave to major American news networks.

'Not a kind of precedent that I want to set'

While speaking of a congressional vote on a military strike in Syria, Obama told NBC Nightly News that he knew there might not be a consensus “around even a limited strike.” 

“I am taking this vote in Congress and what the American people are saying very seriously,” he said. “I recognize how important that debate is. It’s my belief that for me, the President, to act without consensus in a situation where there is no direct imminent threat to the homeland or our interests around the world – that’s not a kind of precedent that I want to set,” Obama said.

In reference to the potential strike, Obama said he would “prefer not having to do it but I think it is important for us to understand that if in fact the choice is between a world in which dictators and other countries believe it is acceptable to use chemical weapons on civilians and children, that will make it more dangerous for us.”

The US president assured Americans that Washington has analyzed the consequences of a potential military strike and the effects of such actions against American interests. His conclusion based on US intelligence is simple - Syria poses no direct threat, despite the Syrian government's warning that the US should "expect everything" if it goes through with a strike.

“It is important to recognize that Assad does not have significant military capabilities relative to us,” Obama told PBS. “He [Assad] has military capabilities relative to non-professional soldiers in the opposition”   

That same message was echoed across other networks. “I don't take it as a credible threat in the sense that Mr. Assad doesn't have the capacity to strike us in a significant way. Some of his allies like Iran and Hezbollah do have the capacity to engage in asymmetrical strikes against us. Our intelligence, I think, is very clear that they would not try to escalate a war with us over limited strikes to deal with this chemical weapon issue,” Obama said during an interview with CBS.