U.S. President Barack Obama says a Russian-backed proposal in which the Syrian government would surrender all its chemical weapons to international control is a “potentially positive development” but that he’s concerned the idea could be used by the regime as a stalling tactic.
In interviews on U.S. television, Obama also said he talked about the idea with Russian President Vladimir Putin at last week's Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg.
"It's a potentially positive development," Obama said on CNN.
He said he believed it would have been "unlikely" that such a proposal would have been put forward had his administration not issued a "credible military threat to deal with the chemical weapons use inside of Syria."
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"It's possible that we can get a breakthrough but it's going to have to be followed up on, and we don't want just a stalling or delaying tactic to put off the pressure that we have on there right now," Obama said.
U.S. Weighs Attack
Obama was speaking on September 9, as American lawmakers debated whether to give the Obama administration authorization to conduct a military operation over the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons.
Amid the discussion of a possible Syrian handover of chemical arms, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat, Nevada) delayed a planned test vote on the authorization measure that had been scheduled for September 11. It is now unclear when, or if, a vote might be held.
Many American lawmakers have expressed doubts about whether military strikes are the right response to the alleged August 21 chemical arms attack in a Damascus suburb that Washington says killed more than 1,400 people.
Recent opinion polls have also suggested that a majority of Americans are opposed to intervening in Syria's war.
The Syrian government has denied carrying out the attack, instead accusing rebel forces of responsibility. The government says the rebels are trying to trigger Western intervention following a series of battlefield losses to government and allied forces in the war, which is now in its third year.
On September 10, Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report saying "available evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government forces" carried out the August 21 chemical attack.
The watchdog reached that conclusion after analyzing witness accounts, remnants of weapons that were used in the attack, and medical records of victims, it said.
Syria’s government has welcomed the chemical-arms handover proposal.
The proposal was advanced by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry suggested that Syria could avoid military strikes if it surrendered all chemical weapons within a week.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has also backed the idea, and France, Germany, and Britain have said it is worth examining.
The Foreign Ministry of Iran, which enjoys particularly close relations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, also welcomed the move.
In a weekend interview in Damascus with U.S. broadcaster Charlie Rose, Assad again denied responsibility for the August poison gas attack.
He also accused the Obama administration of failing to provide evidence showing that his forces were responsible.
Assad warned that the United States could face retaliation if it carried out military strikes on Syria. Asked about what the retaliation could include, Assad responded: "I'm not fortune teller."
With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP