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.
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Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Russia is now working with Syria to prepare a detailed plan of action, which will be presented shortly. Lavrov said that Russia will then be ready to finalize the plan together with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.Skip to next paragraph
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Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said Tuesday he would introduce an amendment to the Senate's Syria resolution that would require international monitors to verify that Syria is complying with the plan and to certify that certain compliance benchmarks be met.
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said the administration and members of Congress were looking for "some kind of straw" to put off military action, with Congress and the country so opposed.
"There are people that are looking for any way out of this," he said. On the Russian plan, he said: "I doubt that the administration takes it too seriously, but they'll explore it. They have to."
In his interviews, Obama conceded he might lose the vote in Congress and declined to say what he would do if lawmakers rejected him. But, he told CBS, he didn't expect a "succession of votes this week or anytime in the immediate future," a stunning reversal after days of furious lobbying and dozens of meetings and telephone calls with individual lawmakers.
The resolution would authorize limited military strikes for up to 90 days and expressly forbids U.S. ground troops in Syria for combat operations. Several Democrats and Republicans announced their opposition Monday, joining the growing list of members vowing to vote "no." Fewer came out in support and one previous advocate, Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., became an opponent Monday.
Lawmakers emerging from a classified briefing late Monday with Secretary of State John Kerry, national security adviser Susan Rice and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the administration was skeptical of the Russian offer but had not ruled it out. Rice told lawmakers that she had spent two-plus years battling Russia at the United Nations, where Moscow vetoed all resolutions condemning the Assad government.
Obama, who said he discussed the potential plan for Syria to surrender its chemical stockpiles with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week, was guarded in his assessment of its chance of success.
"There are a lot of stockpiles inside of Syria," he said. "It's one of the largest in the world. Let's see if they're serious."
But having committed to seeking congressional approval, Obama may have few other immediate options. Unable to confidently push for a vote, and fearful of what the impact of strikes without approval would mean for his final three years in office, diplomacy offers at least a pause for him while he seeks broader support.
Sixty-one percent of Americans want Congress to vote against authorization of U.S. military strikes in Syria, according to an Associated Press poll. About a quarter of Americans want lawmakers to support such action, with the remainder undecided. The poll, taken Sept. 6-8, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Republican hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said concrete steps from Moscow were needed to prove its seriousness, including a binding Security Council resolution at the United Nations.
"The fear is it's a delaying tactic and the Russians are playing us like a fiddle along with Assad," Graham told reporters.
Associated Press writers Julie Pace, David Espo, Alan Fram, Erica Werner and Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.
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