Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says any move by Syria to surrender its chemical weapons to international control would be an "important step," amid signs that a diplomatic solution was taking shape in the international crisis over Syria.
"But this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction. And Russia has to support the international community's efforts sincerely or be held to account," she said.
Clinton spoke during a visit to the White House hours after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had said in London that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid a military strike by surrendering all his chemical weapons within a week, but quickly made clear he had no faith that Assad would do so. The Russians quickly seized on Kerry's comments saying Syrian's chemical weapons could be quickly put under international control and dismantled.
Clinton met Monday with President Barack Obama. She and her daughter Chelsea had just attended the White House Forum to Combat Wildlife Trafficking.
"The Assad regime's inhumane use of weapons of mass destruction against innocent men, women and children violates a universal norm at the heart of our global order," Clinton said.
Urgent: Should U.S. Strike Syria? Vote Here
The White House is asking Congress to approve a military strike punishing Syria's government for a chemical weapons attack. But a new proposal would have Syria turn over its stockpiles to avoid a strike.
Clinton is crediting Kerry and Russia's government with floating the proposal.
Clinton said the world must deal with Syria's chemical weapons threat "as swiftly and comprehensively as possible." She said Russia must support the world's efforts or be held accountable.
Her comments came as the Obama administration turned up the pressure on a skeptical Congress to support U.S. military action in Syria, despite saying it would closely examine the Russian proposal to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control.
On that front, Obama planned six television interviews on Monday, and was due to visit the Capitol on Tuesday to make his case to lawmakers before making a televised address from the White House in the evening.
Obama's public offensive on Syria, which also included a speech by his national security adviser Susan Rice, came as he faced an uphill struggle to win approval for military action from Congress, where a majority still appeared undecided.
Syria's Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem welcomed the Russian proposal to avert U.S. strikes by putting Syria's chemical weapons under international control and quickly dismantling them.
Obama's deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said the White House would take a hard look at the proposal but said Congress should still approve U.S. military action.
"It's important to note that this proposal comes in the context of the threat of U.S. action and the pressure that the president is exerting," Blinken told reporters at the White House.
State Department officials said Kerry had spoken by telephone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about the proposal on Monday.
State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf later said in Washington the United States had "deep skepticism about it" and did not want it to be used as a stalling tactic.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he was considering asking the Security Council to demand Syria move its chemical arms stocks to Syrian sites where they can be safely stored and destroyed. Britain and France also gave the idea tentative support.
Obama's intensifying lobbying came ahead of a crucial U.S. Senate test vote expected on Wednesday on whether to authorize military action in response to last month's chemical weapons attack against Syrian civilians.
Some members of Congress said Obama has lost support for a strike over the last week and polls indicated Americans, weary after wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, strongly opposed military action.
Mike Rogers, Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a supporter of strikes, said on Monday that Obama had "fumbled" the message on Syria and faced a critical moment.
'LAY OUT THE CASE'
"Mr. President, lay out the case. It's an important case for the future national security of this country. You're right on your decision, now show Americans why you believe it's right," Rogers said on MSNBC. "And when he does that, I think we're going to get votes."
Assad, in an interview with CBS television, denied there was any evidence linking his government to a suspected Aug. 21 chemical attack near Damascus that U.S. officials say killed more than 1,400 people. If there were strikes against Syria, the United States "should expect everything," Assad said.
Some lawmakers reacted positively to the Russian plan.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: "I believe that Russia can be most effective in encouraging the Syrian president to stop any use of chemical weapons and place all his chemical munitions, as well as storage facilities, under United Nations control until they can be destroyed," she said.
A survey by USA Today on Monday found majorities of both the Senate and House remained uncommitted on whether to back military action, complicating predictions about the outcome.
A fraction of lawmakers - 22 senators and 22 House members - are on record as supporting strikes, USA Today said, with 19 senators and 130 House members saying they are against.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee narrowly passed a resolution last week that prohibited the insertion of U.S. ground combat troops in Syria and limited the intervention to a maximum of 90 days.
But with the hunt on for more votes, other alternatives were being explored. Representative Chris van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, said he was writing a resolution with Democrat Gerald Connolly of Virginia that would be narrower than the Senate resolution.
He said the resolution would "make it absolutely clear that the only purpose of military action is to deter Assad from future use of chemical weapons."
Senator Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat, said she was working with Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia on an alternative that would give the Assad government 45 days to sign an international chemical weapons ban and begin the process of turning over its weapons.
"During this time, the U.S. would work to build international support and create a global response on the use of chemical weapons in Syria," Heitkamp said.
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