President Obama said on Monday that a Russian proposal for Syria to relinquish control of its chemical weapons stockpiles to international monitors in order to avoid a U.S.-led military attack “is a potentially positive development,” but one that, if credible, would not have come about without the threat of military action.
Soon after Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid a U.S. attack if he would “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that he would urge the Syrians to do so. Soon after Lavrov’s proposal, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said Syria welcomed the plan.
While the idea quickly gained traction, Obama administration officials remained cool to the plan throughout the day on Monday, concerned that it was a ploy to stall for time. But the President, speaking with CNN’s Wolf Blizter, said the plan could potentially avert a military strike on Syria:
BLITZER: Is it possible this could avert a U.S. military strike on Syria?
OBAMA: It’s possible if it’s real. I think it’s certainly a positive development when the Russians and the Syrians both make gestures towards dealing with these chemical weapons. This is what we’ve been asking for, not just over the last week or the last month but for the last couple of years. …
[I]t is a potentially positive development. I have to say that it’s unlikely that we would have arrived at that point where there were even public statements like that without a credible military threat to deal with the chemical weapons use inside of Syria. But we’re going to run this to ground. And John Kerry and the rest of my national security team will engage with the Russians and the international community to see, can we arrive at something that is enforceable and serious. [...]
We may be able to arrive at a consensus in which it doesn’t solve the underlying problems of a civil war in Syria but it does solve the problem I’m trying to focus on right now which is making sure you don’t have over 400 children gassed indiscriminately by these chemical weapons.
Obama asked Congress to approve strikes on Syria to deter future chemical weapons use, but the resolution has encountered resistance from Democrats and Republicans. Obama also told ABC News that any plan for a U.S. strike is “absolutely” on pause to allow time to consider the Kerry-Lavrov proposal. Obama also said that he expects Congress to delay votes on whether to authorize the use of force against Syria in response to the Assad regime’s alleged chemical weapons attack last month.
Indeed, while the Senate was widely expected to vote on the Syria resolution this week, CNN reported on Monday that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) will postpone that vote due to the positive Russian response to Kerry’s proposal.