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Obama softens Syria stand, agrees to work for UN deal
Wednesday September 11, 2013 8:22 AM, Arun Kumar, IANS

Responding positively to a Russian proposal to secure Syria's chemical weapons, US Tuesday agreed to join diplomatic efforts to work out a UN deal to avert a punitive American military strike.

President Barack Obama agreed to "explore seriously the viability of the Russian proposal" to put Syria's weapons under international weapons after discussions with President Francois Hollande of France and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain, officials said.

Administration officials, they said, had begun working with American allies at the United Nations to further explore the viability of the Russian plan, including a potential Security Council resolution.

As part of the diplomatic initiative, a bipartisan group of eight senators began drafting an alternative Congressional resolution that would give the UN time to take control of the Syrian government's arsenal of banned chemical weapons.

"If the alternative resolution gained political traction, it could stave off a Congressional vote - and possibly a debilitating defeat for the Obama administration," said the New York Times noting that a majority of Americans oppose military action.

Obama, who is set to address the nation from the White House on the Syrian crisis Tuesday, travelled to Capital Hill earlier in the day for separate meetings with Senate Republicans and Democrats.

"Let's see if we can come up with language that avoids a strike but accomplishes our key goals to make sure that these chemical weapons are not used," Obama told ABC News Monday as part of a media blitz to win support for a punitive strike.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State John F. Kerry told a House committee Tuesday that the Russian proposal "is the ideal way" to take chemical weapons away from the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

But the use of force "absolutely should not be off the table" despite Syria agreeing to a plan to put its chemical arms under international control.

The US would not tolerate "delay" or "avoidance", he said, adding: "We're waiting for that proposal, but we're not waiting for long."

Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel also told the committee the administration is "hopeful", but "we must be clear-eyed and ensure it is not a stalling tactic by Syria and its Russian patrons."

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)




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