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.

President Barack Obama listens to French President Francois Hollande during the G-8 summit at the Lough Erne golf resort in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, Tuesday, June 18, 2013. The final day of the G-8 summit of wealthy nations is ending with discussions on globe-trotting corporate tax dodgers, a lunch with leaders from Africa, and suspense over whether Russia and Western leaders can avoid diplomatic fireworks over their deadlock on Syria's civil war. 
National Journal
Matt Berman
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Matt Berman
Sept. 10, 2013, 4:56 a.m.

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.

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