US eases back on military action to give Syrian political solution a chance
Obama asks Senate to delay vote on strikes against Assad as US awaits Russia’s plan
US President Barack Obama talks to Senate pages as he leaves the Senate Democratic policy luncheon after meeting with Senate Democrats at the Capitol yesterday in Washington DC.
The White House and a cross-party group of US senators responded to the possibility of a political solution to the Syria crisis by offering the Assad regime the chance to avoid US military action by handing over his chemical weapons.
Last night Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem took a diplomatic step in that direction, saying the country would sign an international chemical weapons treaty and admit the scale of its chemical weapons stockpile for the first time.
The president told US senators over lunch on Capitol Hill that he wanted to give a Russian-proposed diplomatic solution a chance to avoid the US taking military action against the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad.
A bipartisan group of senators started drafting a new Congressional resolution that would give the United Nations time to take control of the Syrian government’s stockpile of chemical weapons.
Mr Reid called on Dr Assad to show that the offer to surrender chemical weapons to international monitors was “not a ploy”, while Democratic senator Joe Manchin said he would seek a separate resolution giving the Syrian government time to comply with the terms of a settlement proposal.
As the push for military action eased, the Obama administration yesterday began consulting with its allies, the UK and France, to explore whether the UN can reach agreement around a proposal from Russia that the Syrian government put its chemical weapons under international control.
The chances of a diplomatic solution still appeared distant as the US and Russia clashed on the terms of any proposed settlement on how the Syrians would agree to hand over their chemical weapons.
In a day of fast-moving developments, Russia president Vladimir Putin made a UN resolution to remove chemical weapons from Syria conditional on the US rejecting the use of military action.
In direct opposition to Moscow’s position, US secretary of state John Kerry called for a binding resolution of all members of the UN Security Council backed up by force if Syria failed to deliver.
Mr Kerry said the US wanted a full resolution of the Security Council, of which Syria’s ally Russia is a member, “in order to have confidence that this has the force that it ought to have”. The resolution must contain “consequences if games are played and somebody tries to undermine this”, he said.
America’s top diplomat said yesterday that he was expecting to receive ideas about how to secure Syria’s chemical weapons from Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
Earlier, Mr Kerry told a House of Representatives committee hearing that the “credible threat of force” had brought the Syrian regime to admit for the first time that it had a chemical weapons arsenal.
The Russian proposal, discussed by Mr Putin and Mr Obama at the G20 summit last week, was the “ideal way” of removing chemical weapons from Dr Assad but he warned that the US “will not wait long” for details of how Moscow’s suggested settlement might work.
“We have to continue to show Syria, Russia, and the world that we are not going to fall for stalling tactics,” Mr Kerry said. “If the challenge we laid down is going to have the potential to become a real proposal, it is only because of the threat of force that we are discussing today.”
In interviews with US television networks on Monday, Mr Obama described Russia’s proposal as a “potentially positive development” and possibly a “significant breakthrough” if it turned out to be real.
Ahead of a televised address to the American people last night, the president told NBC News that he would “absolutely” halt military action against Syria if Dr Assad handed over his chemical weapons.