Critics say Obama’s Syria deal with Putin only weakens U.S.; president brushes off ‘style points’

President Obama defended his tentative deal with Russia to confiscate Syria’s chemical weapons as critics Sunday accused the president of caving to Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

Mr. Obama, in an interview taped Friday and broadcast Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” said that although his administration’s handling of the Syria crisis may have appeared shaky at times, it has produced results.

SEE ALSO: U.N. ability to seize all chemical weapons in Syria raises Republican doubts

“We’re definitely in a better position,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m less concerned about style points. I’m much more concerned with getting the policy right.”

U.S. and Russian negotiators reached an agreement Saturday calling for an inventory of Syria’s chemical weapons program and seizing all of its components within a year. The plan includes imposing penalties if Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government fails to turn over its stockpile.

Mr. Obama called it “an important step” toward ridding the world of chemical weapons. But critics in Congress said the deal was toothless because the administration agreed to withdraw from a proposed U.N. resolution the threat of military action if Syria fails to comply.

“It’s not a matter of trust. It’s a matter of whether it will be enforced or not,” Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “[Russia] will not agree to the use of force no matter what Bashar Assad does.”

Rep. Mike Rogers, Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, said the U.S. gave up an important bargaining chip.

“Not one ounce of chemical weapons came off the battlefield, but we’ve given up every ounce of our leverage when it comes to trying to solve the broader Syrian problem, because we’ve taken away a credible military threat,” the Mr. Rogers said on CNN.

SEE ALSO: International meeting planned to seek Syria political solution

But Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez, New Jersey Democrat, called the deal “a diplomatic breakthrough that is full of opportunity and fraught with danger.”

“The opportunity is that we actually end up in a better place than we envisioned with the use of force, which is the elimination of all of Assad’s chemical weapons and his production facilities; in essence, closing down these factories of death,” Mr. Menendez said.

Selling the deal to allies

Secretary of State John F. Kerry, who negotiated the deal, traveled Sunday to Jerusalem to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Kerry also was scheduled to fly to Paris for discussions with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Mr. Fabius said the deal on destroying Syria’s chemical weapons was “a significant step forward, but it’s a first stage.”

“On one hand, we are going to move forward with the destruction of chemical weapons — bravo — but on the other hand, hundreds of deaths every day are mounting in Syria and that’s also what we must tackle, that is to say find a political solution to the Syrian crisis,” Mr. Fabius said.

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