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Defense

Syria Accepts Russia's Chemical Weapons Plan, Setting Up a Long Day for Obama

The new proposal is gaining traction on the eve of a major address from the president.

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

photo of Matt  Berman
September 10, 2013

Bashar al-Assad's government in Syria has agreed to a Russian plan to hand over its chemical weapons to international control, according to Syria's foreign minister. The minister, Walid al-Moallem, said the agreement was quick and intended to "uproot U.S. aggression." Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, said Tuesday that his government is working with Syria to come up with a detailed plan, which will be revealed soon.

But that's not all that's happening this morning. France is now looking to take a chemical-weapons handover plan to the United Nations Security Council. Under the plan, the chemical-weapons arsenal would eventually be dismantled. France says that its U.N. resolution would require "extremely serious consequences" if the deal is broken. The Security Council's permanent members—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, China, and France—all seem to be supportive of the idea, with China's foreign ministry offering late backing for the possible deal.

In a series of television interviews yesterday, Obama offered some support for the weapons plan, but he expressed strong skepticism that it would actually come to fruition. Obama told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, "If we can accomplish this limited goal without taking military action, that would be my preference." But then there's the skepticism:

 

On the other hand, if we don't maybe maintain and move forward with a credible threat of military pressure, I do not think we will get the kind of movement I would like to see.

That's a particularly tough position for the president to be in on the eve of a televised address from the White House to explain what he thinks we need to do on Syria. Obama is already facing a public that's largely—and increasingly—against taking military action. And while it may seem baffling to some for the U.S. to wind up as a cosigner on a Russian plan, a new New York Times/CBS poll shows that 62 percent of Americans don't think the U.S. should take a leading role in any international conflicts. With a consistent torrent of new developments, it's hard to imagine what kind of case the president will make Tuesday night.

But, right now at least, it's starting to look as if the American public may get its wish and a military strikemight be avoided. Some are already berating Obama for not acting decisively strong enough on Syria, and there's not much doubt that the administration's moves over the past two weeks have been confusing at best. But since "strength" in this case is the unpopular route, finding a way out may not be such a bad plan.

Reid Delays Senate Vote on Syria

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