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Obama Heads to Congress with Hopes for Diplomatic Breakthrough on Syria

Tuesday, 10 Sep 2013 12:28 PM

 

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President Barack Obama will take some credit for a possible diplomatic breakthrough on Syria's chemical weapons stockpile in an address to Americans on Tuesday, but will keep pushing Congress to approve military force, White House spokesman Jay Carney said. 

The White House said Syria's recent acceptance of a Russian proposal to give up its chemical weapons came about because of the U.S. threat of strikes, Carney told MSNBC.

"We see this as potentially a positive development and we see this as a clear result of the pressure that has been put on Syria," Carney said, when asked for the White House reaction to new reports that Syria will cede control of its stockpile.

Obama has said the Syrian government needs to be held accountable for an Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed more than a thousand civilians, including hundreds of children, and asked Congress to authorize the use of limited military strikes.

But his proposal has been deeply unpopular with Americans, and Congress has balked. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat, postponed an important procedural vote on the issue.

Obama will visit Senate Democrats and Republicans in separate meetings on Tuesday. Carney said Obama understands it "will take time" for Congress to consider the issue.

"That process will continue," Carney said. "It is the credible threat of action by the United States that has brought about this potential diplomatic breakthrough. We have to be cautious, but we have to follow through."

Later, in a televised address to the nation at 9 p.m. ET (0100 GMT Wednesday), Obama will explain to Americans why he wants to have permission to strike Syria, Carney said.

"He will also, as he did last night in response to questions from network anchors, note that we have some potential progress on the diplomatic front because of the credible threat of U.S. military force," he said.

"The Syrian government had never acknowledged they had possessed chemical weapons. Now they have," he said.

Before Russia made its proposal to Syria, the idea had been discussed between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Russia, Carney said.

"This is the byproduct of the push for action that the president has led," he said.

But Carney also noted "there is ample reason to be skeptical" about Syria's intentions.

"We need to make sure beforehand that the Syrians are serious and will actually follow through on a commitment to give up a chemical weapons stockpile that they've been husbanding for decades against this international prohibition," he said.

Influential Republican Senator John McCain said on Tuesday he is working to modify a congressional resolution authorizing U.S. military force in Syria to include a "strict" timeline for Syria to turn over chemical weapons. '

© 2014 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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