While keeping the threat of force front and center, President Obama on Saturday pledged to fully pursue a diplomatic deal that would result in Syria turning over its chemical weapons stockpile.
But the U.S., he said, won’t accept endless delays by Syrian President Bashar Assad, and also expects Russia to live up to its end of the bargain.
“We’re making it clear that this can’t be a stalling tactic. Any agreement needs to verify that the Assad regime and Russia are keeping their commitments,” the president said in his weekly radio and internet address. “That means working to turn Syria’s chemical weapons over to international control and ultimately destroying them. This would allow us to achieve our goal — deterring the Syrian regime from using chemical weapons, degrading their ability to use them and making it clear to the world that we won’t tolerate their use.”
Mr. Obama’s comments come at the tail end of a whirlwind week for the White House, which just seven days ago was urging Congress to authorize military force against the Assad regime in response to its repeated use of chemical weapons in the nation’s ongoing civil war.
Since then, however, a diplomatic road has emerged. The U.S. and Russia now are hammering out a deal — which the Assad regime has expressed openness to — that would put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and stave off American military strikes against the war-torn nation.
Secretary of State John Kerry has spent the past several days meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva. The meeting has been described as constructive but also has been marked by disagreements between the two sides.
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The negotiations come just after U.S.-Russian relations suffered another blow earlier this week when Russian President Vladimir Putin took to the op-ed pages of the New York Times to decry American exceptionalism.
Still, Mr. Obama is ready and willing to work with Russia, if such cooperation rids Syria of chemical weapons.
“Russia has staked its own credibility on supporting this outcome,” he said. “But we are not just going to take Russia and Assad’s word for it. We need to see concrete actions.”
Just as he told the nation on Tuesday night, the president also made clear military action is by no means off the table.
“We will maintain our military posture in the region to keep the pressure on the Assad regime,” Mr. Obama said. “And if diplomacy fails, the United States and the international community must remain prepared to act.”