Obama could halt Syria attack plans if Assad turns over CWs
Washington: US President Barack Obama, unsure of getting enough Congressional support on Syria, today said he would "absolutely" put on hold a possible military strike if the Bashar al-Assad regime agrees to place its chemical weapons stockpile under international control.
Obama, said that he was looking skeptically, but seriously, at a Russian offer to push the Syrian government to put its vast chemical weapons arsenal and infrastructure under international control.
He called the development a "potentially significant breakthrough."
"If Syrian President gives up his chemical weapons, a military strike would absolutely be on pause," Obama told ABC News.
"Absolutely, if, in fact, that happened," the President said when asked if the military strike was on pause if Assad yields control of his chemical weapons to international authority.
"That's in our national security interest. If we can do that without a military strike, that is overwhelmingly my preference. And now the key is, can we see a sense of urgency?" Obama said.
"I don't think that we would have gotten to this point unless we had maintained a credible possibility of a military strike, and I don't think now is the time for us to let up on that," Obama, said asserting that he wants to make sure that the norm against use of chemical weapons is maintained.
Asserting that he always preferred for a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian crisis, Obama said, "I fervently hope that this can be resolved in a non-military way."
The US President also said he was not confident enough of getting Congressional support on the issue.
"I wouldn't say I'm confident. I'm confident that the members of Congress are taking this issue very seriously and they're doing their homework. And I appreciate that," Obama told the NBC news in another interview.
The President said he has not decided on going for the military strike without Congressional authorisation.
Obama, in separate interviews to six news channels on the issue of Syria yesterday, said he would take a final decision after talking to American people directly.
Obama's comments came as he faced stiff resistance from the opposition Republican Senators and scepticism from his own Democrats, forcing the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to postpone the vote on military intervention in Syria.
According a media report, Obama could fall short of 50 votes needed to get Senate authorisation for a military strike against the Assad regime in Syria.
"Opposition is growing among Obama's allies and former colleagues in his own party on a US strike on Syria, a sign that there is a real chance that the White House could fall short of the 50 votes it needs to win in the Senate, according to several sources familiar with the situation," Politico reported yesterday.
While so far only six Democratic Senators have publicly announced their decision to vote against the resolution, the number can grow.
Sensing trouble, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he will not rush the vote to begin considering the use-of-force resolution, and insisted that he has enough votes.
"I've spoken to the Republican leader. I've talked to virtually all my Democratic senators and we have enough votes to get cloture," he said.
The Russian proposal, which Syria's foreign minister said his country would support, followed a remark by Kerry who said said the solution to the Syrian conflict must be political and not military.
A State Department spokeswoman initially warned reporters it was merely "rhetorical."
Although White House aides were caught off guard by the proposal, by the end of the day Obama was claiming some credit for it, arguing that the US threat of force had pushed Russia and Syria to compromise.
Until now, Russia has blocked attempts at the UN to censure Syrian President Bashar Assad's government for its alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians and other abuses.
Obama said he had discussed a possible UN solution with Russian President Vladimir Putin, most recently last week in St Petersburg, where the two leaders met on the sidelines of a global economic summit.
"This is something that is not new. I've been discussing this with President Putin for some time now," Obama said.
"But we're going to run this to ground. John Kerry and the rest of my national security team will engage with Russians and the international community to see can we arrive at something that is enforceable and serious," he said.
But at the same time, Obama said that a potential diplomatic resolution doesn't mean that Congress should withdraw the threat of military action.
"I don't think we would have gotten to this point unless we had maintained a credible possibility for a military strike and I don't think now is the time for us to let up on that," Obama said.
Assad is accused of using chemical weapons against his own people on a small scale "multiple times" since March and, according to the White House, an August 21 attack on Damascus claimed 1,400 lives, 400 of them children.
Since then, Obama and his aides have worked feverishly for more than a week to build congressional support to strike Syria.
Obama said that Syria's willingness to pursue a diplomatic solution could give Congress more time to decide on whether to grant him the authority to strike.