U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday asked Congress to delay votes on authorizing military strikes against Syria in order to give Russia time to get Syria to surrender any chemical weapons it possesses, according to senators.
Obama has insisted that Syria be punished for a chemical weapons attack on civilians last month. But momentum is growing for a diplomatic solution, rather than a military one.
Syria accepted a Russian proposal on Tuesday to give up chemical weapons and win a reprieve from U.S. military strikes but serious differences emerged between Russia and the United States that could obstruct a U.N. resolution to seal a deal.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said in a statement shown on Russian state television that Damascus was committed to the Russian initiative.
"We want to join the convention on the prohibition of chemical weapons. We are ready to observe our obligations in accordance with that convention, including providing all information about these weapons," Moualem said.
"We are ready to declare the location of the chemical weapons, stop production of the chemical weapons, and show these (production) facilities to representatives of Russia and other United Nations member states," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the Obama administration will take a hard look at the Russian plan. Kerry plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday in Geneva to discuss the latest developments.
The United Nations Security Council was planning to hold an emergency meeting on Syria Tuesday afternoon, but that was abruptly canceled.
President Obama says the U.S. is still prepared to go ahead with military strikes against Syria if the diplomacy effort fails. Russian President Vladimir Putin says the plan for Syria can only work if the United States drops its threat of force.
Syria\’s main opposition bloc, the Syrian National Coalition, dismissed the proposal as meaningless. It said the plan still would give the Syrian army free rein to fight on with conventional weapons.
But while diplomatic activity focuses on the response to the chemical weapons attack on a Damascus neighborhood Aug. 21, the civil war in Syria continues. On Tuesday, Syrian military jets again bombed rebel positions in the capital.
France on Tuesday said it would start the process for a new UN Security Council resolution, under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which is militarily enforceable.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the resolution would propose putting any Syrian chemical weapons under international control before moving to dismantle it.
Fabius said the resolution, based around five points, would demand that Syria "bring fully to light\’\’ its chemical weapons programme. The measure would also set up international inspections and controls of the dismantling process, and would carry "very serious consequences\’\’ if the commitment were violated.
President Obama says he overwhelmingly prefers to use diplomacy rather than a military strike to make sure the Syrian government\’s use of chemical weapons never happens again, adding that a new Russian proposal to put Syria\’s chemical weapons stockpile under international control to avoid a U.S. military strike could be a potential breakthrough.
In a series of television interviews Monday, Obama expressed skepticism about a new Russian proposal to put Syria\’s chemical weapons stockpile under international control, but called the plan a potential breakthrough. He said it would not have materialized without the threat of military action.
Obama is continuing meetings with members of Congress on Tuesday before giving an evening televised address on the situation in Syria.
He acknowledged Monday there may not be enough support among lawmakers to pass a proposed measure authorizing U.S. military action. A Senate resolution would give Obama a maximum of 90 days to carry out an attack, but would not authorize the use of ground troops.
Obama also noted that a majority of Americans do not want the U.S. to take military action, but he said he believes it is a matter of national security to ensure that bans against the use of chemical weapons are maintained.
Obama said on CNN that the Russian plan was "a potentially positive development", while on NBC he said it could be a "significant breakthrough".
He told PBS: "I have instructed John Kerry to talk directly to the Russians and run this to ground and if we can exhaust these diplomatic efforts and come up with a formula that gives the international community a verifiable enforceable mechanism to deal with these chemical weapons in Syria then I\’m all for it."
Iran and China also welcomed the Russian proposal on Tuesday.
"As long as it is a proposal that helps ameliorate the current tense situation in Syria, is beneficial to maintaining peace and stability in Syria and the region, and is beneficial to a political resolution, the international community ought to give it positive consideration," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said.
The Arab League chief added his voice on Tuesday and also expressed support for the proposal.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also has endorsed the idea.
Nabil Elaraby told reporters that the Arab League has always been in favour of a "political resolution."
Israel, however, voiced skepticism about the plan with President Shimon Peres warning on Monday that negotiations would be "tough\’\’ and that Syria is "not trustworthy.\’\’
Avigdor Lieberman, who chairs the parliament\’s foreign affairs and defence committee, told Israel Radio on Tuesday that Syria could use the idea to stall military action.
More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, and the UN refugee agency says about one third of Syria\’s pre-war population of 20.8 million have fled their homes, either to other countries or safer areas within Syria.