President Obama said in a speech from the East Room of the White House on Tuesday that he has asked Congress to postpone votes on the authorization for the use of force against Syria after new diplomatic developments that may allow for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up its chemical weapons stockpiles under international supervision.
Obama’s announcement comes after more than a week of public debate over whether lawmakers should grant approval for strikes in response to the Assad government’s use of chemical weapons in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus last month.
As it looked more like Congress would not grant Obama that authority, the Russians proposed, apparently at the behest of Secretary of State John Kerry, that it will press Assad to give up his chemical stockpiles. And today, Syrian authorities said they would agree to the proposal.
In his speech from the East Room on Tuesday, Obama once again made the case that the U.S. should respond militarily to Assad’s chemical weapons use, arguing that doing so is in the national security interests of the United States.
But, noting this week’s diplomatic developments, Obama said he is asking Congress to temporarily put the breaks on the force resolutions.
“Over the last few days we have seen some encouraging signs,” Obama said. “In part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin, the Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons.”
Obama said that the proposal has the potential to achieve the U.S. goal of preventing further chemical weapons use in Syria and then laid out the next steps:
OBAMA: I have therefor asked the leaders of Congress to postpone the vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I’m sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his diplomatic counterpart on Thursday and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin. I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies, France and the United Kingdom, and we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.
Indeed, it’s unclear what the diplomatic path forward will look like as the Russians already rejected a new French proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international supervision and hold accountable those responsible for using them.
Obama said in his speech that he will still consider using force if diplomacy fails.
“I’ve ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails,” he said, later making a direct plea to all Americans to consider the cost of inaction: “I’d ask every member of Congress and those of you watching at home tonight to view those videos of the attack and then ask, ‘What kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas, and we choose to look the other way?’”