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Obama: Russia's Proposal is Significant, but I'm Skeptical

Obama in media blitz: Russia's proposal regarding Syria is a positive development, but I'm skeptical Syria would comply.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 9/10/2013, 2:45 AM

President Barack Obama’s media blitz began on Monday evening, as he gave interviews to six television networks in which he presented his case on Syria.

In his interview with NBC News, Obama called a Russian proposal for Syria to turn over control of its chemical weapons to international monitors in order to avoid a military strike a “potentially positive development” that could represent a “significant breakthrough.”

At the same time, he said, he remains skeptical that the Syrian government would follow through on its obligations based on its recent track record.

“Between the statements that we saw from the Russians-- the statement today from the Syrians-- this represents a potentially positive development,” said Obama. “We are going to run this to ground. John Kerry will be talking to his Russian counterpart. We're going to make sure that we see how serious these proposals are.”

“And my preference consistently has been a diplomatic resolution to this problem,” he added. “But what we have to also keep in mind is that Syria has large chemical weapon stockpiles-- they have been in denial mode for quite some time-- we have been in discussions for a long time now about trying to do something about these chemical weapons with the Russians as well as the Syrians and we haven't gotten movement.”

Obama told NBC that he believes the Russian proposal and Syria’s agreement to it were a result of the United States’ threat to attack in Syria as a punitive measure to a chemical attack on August 21.

“I think what we're seeing is that a credible threat of a military strike from the United States, supported potentially by a number of other countries around the world has given them pause and makes them consider whether or not they would make this move. And if they do, then this could potentially be a significant breakthrough. But we have to be skeptical because this is not how we've seen them operate-- over the last couple a years,” he said.

In an interview with CNN, Obama said the U.S. would “run this to ground," when asked about the Russian proposal, adding that the United States will work with Syrian ally Russia and the international community "to see if we can arrive at something that is enforceable and serious."

Obama said that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke about the Syrian chemical weapons and the U.S. push for a military response at last week's G20 summit in St. Petersburg.

In his interview with ABC News, Obama said that if Assad gives up his chemical weapons, a military strike would "absolutely" be on pause.

"I consider this a modestly positive development," he said when asked whether Syria's apparent willingness to relinquish control of its chemical weapons would prevent a U.S. strike.

"Let's see if we can come up with language that avoids a strike but accomplishes our key goals to make sure that these chemical weapons are not used," the president said.

Earlier Monday, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quick to jump on the bandwagon following comments by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who told a press conference in London that Assad could avoid a strike on his country by giving up "every single bit" of his chemical weapons arsenal to the international community within a week.

Lavrov then called on Assad’s regime to give up its chemical weapons stockpile as a way of avoiding military intervention by Western states.

Kerry later clarified, however, that his comments about Syria were rhetorical and not a proposal.

France responded to the Russian proposal by saying it was acceptable under certain conditions.

These conditions, said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, include a UN Security Council resolution, with consequences if Assad failed to comply.

Assad has denied there is any evidence that his regime used chemical weapons and suggested that if attacked its own allies would respond with force of their own.

Obama’s six interviews are part of his bid to convince Congress to support a military strike in Syria.

Last Wednesday, a key Senate panel voted to authorize the use of force in response to a chemical attack in Damascus on August 21, which killed more than 1,400 people.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted 10-7, with one senator voting present, to approve a military strike over the attack, which the U.S. has said was committed by President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. The full Senate is expected to vote on the measure this week.

Obama will also travel to Capitol Hill on Tuesday to sell his plan for a Syria strike to Senators before the vote.

The visit to Capitol Hill will take place just hours before a scheduled national address from the Oval Office.