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Syria turn over weapons to Russia? Obama's response

Will Syria turn over its chemical weapons, as Russia proposes? Syria said Tuesday it had accepted Russia's proposal to place its chemical weapons under international control for subsequent dismantling. Obama quotes Reagan: Trust but verify.

By Bradley Klapper and Donna CassataAssociated Press / September 10, 2013


Washington

 With opposition to military action growing among Americans and lawmakers, President Barack Obama is heading to Congress on Tuesday with fresh hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough that would allow Syria's government to avert U.S. missile strikes if it surrenders its chemical weapons arsenal.

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Obama had planned to use the meetings with Democratic and Republican senators to personally lobby for his plan of targeted strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces in retaliation for last month's massive chemical weapons attack outside of Damascus. Instead, he signaled in interviews ahead of his trip to Capitol Hill that new diplomacy involving Russia and others could eliminate the risks of a repeat chemical attack without requiring an American intervention. He presents his case to the American people Tuesday night.

"The key is, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, that we don't just trust, but we also verify," Obama told CBS. "The importance is to make sure that the international community has confidence that these chemical weapons are under control, that they are not being used, that potentially they are removed from Syria and that they are destroyed."

The dramatic shift in the president's tone came after weeks of threatening tough reprisals on the Assad regime and with his administration facing stiff resistance in Congress to any resolution that would authorize him to use military force against Syria. For the first time Monday, a majority of senators staking out positions or leaning in one direction were expressing opposition, according to an Associated Press survey. The count in the House was far more lopsided, with representatives rejecting Obama's plan by more than a 6-1 margin even as the leaders of both parties in the House professed their support.

For the Obama administration, presenting just the possibility of a diplomatic solution offered an "out" with it struggling to come up with the 60 votes needed for Senate passage of a use-of-force resolution. Reflecting the difficulty, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., unexpectedly postponed a test vote originally set for Wednesday on Obama's call for legislation explicitly backing a military strike. Reid cited ongoing "international discussions."

Obama said he'd still address the American people in prime time Tuesday. Only now, he stressed that strikes on Assad's government were but a "very narrow military option."

The president wasn't the only one happy to delay a showdown for at least a few days. Several lawmakers, conflicted by their desire to see Assad punished and their wariness about America getting pulled into another Middle East war, breathed sighs of relief. And Russia, Assad's biggest international backer, championed the path forward in the hope of preventing the instability that might arise from a broader, Iraq-like conflict involving the United States.

Syria said Tuesday it had accepted Russia's proposal to place its chemical weapons under international control for subsequent dismantling. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said after meeting with Russian parliament speaker that his government quickly agreed to the Russian initiative to "derail the U.S. aggression."

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