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Obama puts off Syria strike amid negotiations on Russia plan

Published: Updated:

U.S. President Barack Obama asked Congress on Tuesday to delay the vote on whether the United States should intervene militarily, vowing to give long-shot diplomacy a chance.

In what appeared to be a somber national address, Obama warned Americans that for reasons of national security and moral decency, they could not simply look away after innocent children were gassed to death in an attack he blames on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

“The images from this massacre are sickening: Men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas,” Obama said in the 16-minute speech.

“Others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath. A father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk.”

After days of confused diplomacy and contradictory messages from his administration, Obama said it was too early to say if a Russian plan to secure Syria’s chemical weapons could forestall U.S. air strikes.

“It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments,” Obama said, speaking from the East Room of the White House.

“But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies,” Obama said.

The president said he would dispatch Secretary of State John Kerry to Geneva to meet his Russian counterpart for talks on Thursday.

He said that it was simply not an option for America not to respond to the August 21 chemical weapons attack, which Washington says killed 1,400 people.

“When dictators commit atrocities, they depend on the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory,” Obama said.

“But these things happened.

“The facts cannot be denied. The question now is what the United States of America and the international community is prepared to do about it.

“Because what happened to those people, to those children, is not only a violation of international law, it’s also a danger to our security.”

(With AFP)