Syrian crisis: Keeping up with key developments
Facing weak support for U.S. military action, President Barack Obama said that a plan suggested by Russia to have Syria hand over its chemical arsenal to international control could avert American strikes “if it’s real.”
Syria’s prime minister said Damascus supports the Russian initiative. Will Moscow’s proposal delay an Obama strike? And how can Obama sway Americans to support military action? Obama’s remarks in his televised address to the nation at 9 p.m. Tuesday will be crucial.
• The U.N. Security Council will hold an emergency meeting on Syria at 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, the U.N. spokesman’s office said.
• Russia will propose a U.N. draft declaration backing an initiative to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has told France that its own draft resolution holding the Syrian government responsible for the use of chemical weapons is “unacceptable.”
• Russian President Vladimir Putin said the United States and its allies should “pledge to renounce the use of force” as world powers work to deal with the Syrian chemical weapons issue. “It is difficult to make any country — Syria or any other country in the world — to unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration,” he told Russian TV on Tuesday.
• French President Francois Hollande, British Prime Minister David Cameron and Obama agreed Tuesday to work together to explore the Russian proposal seriously, a White House official said. The talks will begin in earnest at the United Nations later Tuesday and will include a discussion on a potential U.N. Security Council resolution.
• The opposition Syrian Coalition said Tuesday that the Russian proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control “is a political strategy that aims to stall for more time” and “does not address the issue of accountability for crimes against innocents.”
• Syrian Prime Minister Wael Nader Al-Halqi said Damascus supports the Russian initiative, Syria state TV reported. The plan “aims to stop the Syrian bloodshed and prevent a war,” Al-Halqi said. “Yesterday we held a very fruitful round of talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and from his side, there was a proposal for an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And by evening (Monday) we agreed to the Russian initiative,” Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said. He said Syria had agreed because it would “remove grounds for American aggression.”
• Russia said it’s working on a plan for Syria to hand over chemical weapons. “We, the Russian side are currently engaged in the preparation of a workable, clear, specific plan for which — literally this minute — we are in contact with the Syrian side,” Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said. “We expect to present this plan in the near future and are prepared to refine and work it out with the participation of the U.N. secretary-general, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and with the participation of the members of the Security Council.”
• China welcomes and supports Russia’s proposal to have Syria hand over chemical weapons to international control, the Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.
• Iran said it welcomes the Russian initiative for Syria “to put a halt to militarism in the region,” according to a banner on state-run Press TV’s website.
• France is planning to offer a five-point U.N. Security Council resolution, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. The points include condemning the August 21 massacre, having Syria shed light on its weapons of mass destruction and placing them under international control, having international inspections, forcing Syria to face severe consequences if it violates its obligations, and submitting the perpetrators of the August 21 massacre to international justice.
• France will go to the Security Council on Tuesday with its proposal for Syria to hand over and destroy its chemical weapons, Fabius said. He said France will not accept “delaying tactics.”
• There are consultations with France and others about how to move quickly at the United Nations to test whether Russia and Syria are serious about the initiative to place chemical weapons under international control, a senior U.S. administration official said.
• Obama and Putin, despite their chilly relationship, have been talking for roughly a year about the issue of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, a senior U.S. administration official said Tuesday.
• Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have been appointed by their respective presidents as the point people on the Syrian chemical weapons issue, a senior U.S. administration official said Tuesday. The two diplomats have talked nine times since the August 21 attack in the Damascus area.
U.S. Congress and government
• The Syrian regime has “about 1,000 metric tons of numerous chemical agents, binary components, including finished sulfur, mustard, binary components for sarin and VX,” Secretary of State John Kerry told a House committee Tuesday. “Most of that is in the form of unmixed binary components, probably stored mostly in tanks. But they also possess sarin-filled munitions and other things I can’t go into here.”
• A White House official tells CNN that since August 23, the Obama administration has had discussions with at least 93 Senators and more than 350 House members, regarding Syria. In addition to the president’s efforts and his much-anticipated speech on Syria scheduled for Tuesday night, Vice President Joe Biden is separately meeting with a group of House Republicans and House Democrats at the White House, the official says.
• Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi says the Russian plan has “given the President a victory” and said White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough has told House Democrats, “if it is serious, if it is credible, if it is real, will be given every consideration.” Democratic leaders say the plan doesn’t take the wind out of the Administration’s efforts but “validates what the president is doing,” Pelosi said.
• A White House official says the feeling inside the White House is that, given the Russian proposal on Syria’s chemical weapons, there is now less urgency for a vote on taking action against the country. However, White House officials believe their position has been strengthened since Syria embraced the Russian proposal to place the country’s chemical weapons under international control. At this point, White House officials believe they can let diplomacy take its course, the official said.
• Kerry said Tuesday that the use of force “absolutely should not be off the table” in Congress despite the Russian proposal. But he told House lawmakers when and how is up to Obama. “The Senate has made a decision to hold off to see if there are any legs in this Russia proposal,” Kerry said, referring to the postponement of a procedural vote scheduled for Wednesday.
• A bipartisan group of U.S. senators is working on an alternative resolution that would set key benchmarks to be met in order to avoid a military strike against Syria, according to a source familiar with the talks.
• Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday, Kerry told lawmakers that a “credible threat of force” in recent weeks has for the “first time” prompted the Syrian regime “to even acknowledge that they have a chemical weapons arsenal.” He added that a Russian proposal to turn over Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile can’t be a process for “delay” or “avoidance.”
• Kerry also warned the committee that Iran, a close ally of Syria, “looms out there with its nuclear program.” “They are watching what we do here. If we choose not to act, we will be sending a message to Iran of American ambivalence, American weakness,” he said.
• The top-ranking Republican in the Senate said Tuesday that he will vote against authorizing military action against Syria. “A vital national security risk is clearly not at play. There are just too many unanswered questions about our long-term strategy in Syria,” Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said in a speech on the floor of the Senate.
• On CNN’s “New Day,” Sen. John McCain upbraided the Obama administration’s discussions of Syria. “There’s a degree of incoherence that I have never seen the likes of,” the Arizona Republican said. He noted that Secretary of State John Kerry said any strike on Syria would be “unbelievably small.” “What does that mean?” McCain asked. “We still haven’t determined what the goal of these military strikes are.”
• Obama will go to the Hill to make his case to Senate Democrats, a Senate leadership aide told CNN. Making sure to hit both sides of the aisle, the president also will attend the Senate GOP lunch, a Senate Republican aide said.
• Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will talk about Syria at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia ahead of the president’s national address.
American public opinion
• A new national poll suggests that as Obama prepares to tell a skeptical American public why the United States should take military action against Syria, he’s partly to blame for the box into which he’s put himself.
• The CNN/ORC International poll indicates that Americans are divided evenly on whether Obama is a strong leader as well as whether he’s honest and trustworthy.
• The poll also found that one in five said they completely understand Obama’s Syria policy. A little more than half said they “somewhat” understand the administration’s game plan, and about three in 10 said they are not clear about the administration’s strategy or don’t understand it at all.
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