- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2013

Backing away from a proposed military attack, President Obama said Monday night he will pursue a Russian proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile under international control. 

“We will pursue this diplomatic track,” Mr. Obama said in an interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace. “I fervently hope that this can be resolved in a non-military way.

“The president, who has requested congressional authorization for a “limited” military strike against Syria, said he wants to “explore” the offer that came from Moscow Monday.

“I welcome the possibility of the development,” Mr. Obama said during a round of six network interviews at the White House. “I think we should explore and exhaust all avenues of diplomatic resolution of this.”

The development appeared to postpone the need for a vote in Congress this week. The president said he did not expect lawmakers to finish debate on proposed military action this week.

“I do believe it is going to take some time,” he said. “Right now the American people are not persuaded.

“The Russian proposal arose after Secretary of State John F. Kerry said with great skepticism that Syria could avert a U.S. attack if its regime agreed to give up all of its chemical weapons immediately. Moscow quickly jumped on the idea.The president will give an address to the nation Tuesday night about the proposed actions.

During an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Mr. Obama expressed cautious optimism that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may be willing to give up his chemical weapons, negating the need for a U.S. military response.

“I think it’s certainly a positive development when the Russians and the Syrians make gestures toward dealing with these chemical weapons,” Mr. Obama said, referring to the deal floated by the Russian government and Mr. Kerry.

The president said he discussed the idea with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Russia last week. 

“These are conversations that I’ve had directly with Mr. Putin,” Mr. Obama said. “When I was at the G-20, we had some time to discuss this.  And … I believe that  …  Mr. Putin does not see the use of chemical weapons as a good thing inside of Syria or anyplace else.”

The threat of U.S. action, Mr. Obama said, has led to the potential breakthrough.

“I have to say that it’s unlikely we would’ve arrived at that point … without a credible military threat to deal with the chemical weapons inside of Syria,” the president said. “But we’re going to run this to ground. John Kerry and the rest of my national security team will engage with the Russians and the international community to see if we can arrive at something that is enforceable and serious.”

 

The president also dismissed threats by Mr. Assad that the U.S. will face retaliation if it strikes Syria
“He doesn’t have a credible means to threaten the United States,” he said.