Obama: plan for Syria to hand chemical weapons ‘potentially positive’

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U.S. President Barack Obama said on Monday that a Russian plan for Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control was “potentially positive” and pledged to take it seriously.

Obama warned however against any stalling tactics from Syria, and said the fact there was any talk of a plan to forestall U.S. air strikes was only down to his administration’s threats of military action, AFP reported, quoting Obama’s interview on NBC.

“I think you have to take it with a grain of salt initially,” he told “NBC Nightly News” in an interview. “This represents a potentially positive development,” he said, adding that Secretary of State John Kerry would explore with Russia how serious the offer is.

Obama was speaking in one of six television interviews he gave on Monday to make his case that Congress should grant him authority to take action against Syria in response to an alleged Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that killed more than 1,400 people.

Kerry suggested earlier Monday that Syria could avoid a potential U.S. air attack by putting its chemical weapons under international control.

Syria’s ally Russia quickly took the idea to Syria’s foreign minister, who said Damascus welcomes the proposal.

The State Department later said Kerry had been making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility of Assad turning over chemical weapons, which Assad denies his forces used in the Aug. 21 poison gas attack, according to Reuters.

Obama conceded that he might lose his fight for congressional support of a military strike against Syria, and declined to say what he would do if lawmakers reject his call to back retaliation for a chemical weapons attack last month.

“I think it's fair to say that I haven't decided” on a next step if Congress turns its back, the president said in an NBC interview, one of six he granted during the day as part of a furious lobbying campaign aimed at winning support from dubious lawmakers as well as a war-weary public.

He discussed a potential diplomatic solution on Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week when the two leaders discussed the crisis at the G20 summit, Obama told PBS News Hour in an interview on Monday.

“I did have those conversations. And this is a continuation of conversations I’ve had with President Putin for quite some time,” Obama said in the interview, one of six he gave to major U.S. television networks.

Two senior Republican U.S. senators, John McCain and Lindsey Graham, said the possibility of Assad giving up control of his chemical weapons should make members of Congress more willing to vote for the authorization for the use of military force.

“Congress should proceed with its plans to consider and vote on the authorization for use of force that is now before the Senate, and today’s development should make members of Congress more willing to vote yes,” McCain and Graham said in a statement.

(With AFP, Reuters, AP)