- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that his government’s plan to have Syria turn over chemical weapons will only work if President Obama calls off his plans for military strikes — something the White House has rejected.

Instead, the Obama administration was still pushing Congress on Tuesday to pass a resolution authorizing the strikes, saying that the threat of military action is the only reason Russia and Syria were willing to deal in the first place.

In a statement to Russia Today, a Kremlin-financed television station, Mr. Putin said Syria can’t be expected to disarm under threats of violence.

“Certainly, this is all reasonable, it will function and will work out, only if the U.S. and those who support it on this issue pledge to renounce the use of force, because it is difficult to make any country — Syria or any other country in the world — to unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration,” Mr. Putin told RT.

In the U.S., Mr. Obama was meeting separately with Senate Democrats and then Senate Republicans to press his case and to discuss the latest turns in the international diplomacy.

Hours earlier, Secretary of State John F. Kerry made the case to the House for keeping the threat of force a reality.

“The president believes we need to keep this threat, this reality, absolutely on the table,” Mr. Kerry told the House Armed Services Committee. “He wants the Congress to act.”

The White House issued a statement saying Mr. Obama spoke separately with British and French leaders and they agreed to work with Russia and China, the other two permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, “to explore seriously the viability of the Russian proposal to put all Syrian chemical weapons and related materials fully under international control in order to ensure their verifiable and enforceable destruction.”

The three western leaders agreed they want a diplomatic solution, but said they will retain the right to use “a full range of responses.”

The Russian proposal, made Monday, has upended the debate in Washington over how to approach Syria, which the Obama administration says used chemical weapons against its citizens, killing more than 1,400 of them in an Aug. 21 attack.

That proposal left lawmakers on Capitol Hill hopeful there is a way out without having to vote to authorize American military strikes. The Senate, which had been barreling toward a Wednesday test vote on approving strikes, agreed to put off the vote for now.

“The Senate should give these international discussions time to play out, but not unlimited time,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who does support strikes.

Several lawmakers were trying to rework the Senate force authorization resolution, which cleared the Foreign Relations Committee last week, to include a new deadline for U.N. action to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons. The resolution would still commit the U.S. to military action if the international gambit failed.

In the House, a debate wasn’t scheduled until next week. But House Speaker John A. Boehner said he was skeptical of the Russian proposal, saying the track record of the countries involved wasn’t promising.

Mr. Kerry said the exact timing of a vote may be flexible, but he and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Congress’s support is still needed to make the U.S. threat credible.

“It was the president’s determination to hold [Syrian President Bashar] Assad accountable, and the fact that he put military action on the table, that enabled this new diplomatic track to maybe gain some momentum and credibility,” Mr. Hagel said, appearing alongside Mr. Kerry at the Armed Services Committee hearing. “The support of Congress for holding Assad accountable will give even more energy and urgency to these efforts.”

Kristina Wong contributed to this article.

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