Clinton: Syrian chemical arms handover would be ‘important’ step

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Hillary Clinton emerged from a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama Monday saying a Russian plan for Syria to hand over its chemical arms would be an “important step.”

The former secretary of state also warned that Russia must sincerely help international efforts to defuse the crisis or “be held to account” and that the new initiative must not be an excuse for delay or obstruction by Syria.

Clinton also urged Congress to support Obama’s call for backing for military action against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to punish a chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb on August 21.

Clinton was at the White House for an event on combating wildlife trafficking but had made clear on Sunday that she would address Syria, the key political issue consuming Washington.

“If the regime immediately surrendered its stockpiles to international control, as was suggested by Secretary (John) Kerry and the Russians, that would be an important step,” Clinton said.

“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.

“It is very important to note that this discussion that has taken hold today about potential international control over Syria’s stockpiles only could take place in the context of a credible military threat by the United States.”

Clinton’s public backing for Syria strikes was a boost for Obama, given that she remains a highly popular figure, especially among Democrats.

“The president and I discussed these challenges today,” Clinton said.

“I will continue to support his efforts. And I hope that the Congress will as well.”

Clinton’s every move is watched by political pundits weighing whether she will make another run at the presidency in 2016.

Her comments on the Russian plan, while those of a former official, clearly had the approval of the White House, and represented the most detailed response so far to a plan framed by Russia in a bid to head off U.S. strikes against Syria.

Obama will address Americans on television on Tuesday as he faces tough votes in Congress on authorizing military action, with public opinion mostly opposed to another U.S. engagement in the Middle East.

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