Though international efforts to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons faltered after a promising start, the US said on Tuesday it will give diplomacy time, but won’t give up the military option.
President Barack Obama said in a televised national address the Russian proposal has the “potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force”.
But, he added, “I’ve ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails”.
The president made a forceful case for military action, as he was expected to, addressing doubts and questions being raised by a sceptical people and, on their behalf, lawmakers.
The US and allies France and UK decided earlier in the day to try the Russian plan, through the UN, to eliminate Syria’s chemical stockpile and get it to sign the convention banning used of such weapons.
Syria announced it was accepting the plan.
Russia sought an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the plan, but called it off at the last minute over reported problems with a French proposal.
Russia wants to avoid the threat of military action to ensure Syria gives up its weapons, which the French proposed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.
There are no other meetings scheduled of the council for now.
But US secretary of state John Kerry, who had first floated the plan and dropped it, is headed for Geneva for discussions with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
The president didn’t give a time frame for diplomacy to work or fail, saying only that he had asked leaders of Congress to postpone a vote on his request for authorisation.
But the military option remains on the table. He went down a list of questions raised about the strikes being planned, in the most detailed fashion yet on the issue.
It was not about being the world’s policeman. It was not about regime change. It would not be open ended. It won’t involve ground invasion. And the strikes won’t be “pinpricks”.
His basic argument was not new, though: Assad cannot be allowed to get away with this, as that would be an invitation to every tyrant in the world to use these weapons.
“Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield,” the president said. And they could fall into the hands of terrorist organisations.
Assad’s use of chemical weapons was, therefore, not only a “crime against humanity”, which he said it was indeed, but also a “danger to our security”.
And that’s why it must matter to Americans however much they may want to avoid another military action. But instant polls showed he failed to move the numbers significantly.
AFP input: SYRIA READILY ACCEPTS RUSSIAN PLAN
Seizing on a plan by its Russian ally for its nerve gas arsenal to be taken under international control, Syria said it would sign the UN treaty banning chemical arms.
Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem told Russia’s Interfax news agency: “We are ready to state where the chemical weapons are, to halt production of chemical weapons and show these installations to representatives of Russia, other countries and the UN.”
“We want to join the chemical weapons ban treaty. We will respect our commitments in relation to the treaty, including providing information on these weapons.”
Syria is one of only seven UN member states not already party to the 1993 ‘Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction’.
Signatories are supposed to destroy any chemical weapons under their control and to allow UN inspectors access to their sites.
Agencies: RELYING ON PUTIN
Obama now finds himself somewhat dependent on Russian president Vladimir Putin to use his influence on Syria.
It is a remarkable turnaround in relations between two leaders who are wary of each other and have bickered all year, particularly over Russia’s decision to give temporary asylum to former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Putin, Assad’s most powerful foreign ally, said the Syrian offer could end the crisis, but only if the US withdrew its threat to take punitive action.
“It all makes sense and can work if the US side and all those who support it renounce the use of force,” Putin said, according to Russian television.
“It is difficult to constrain Syria or another country to disarm unilaterally while military action against that country is being prepared.”