Top news: President Obama went before the nation on Tuesday night to make his case for a military intervention in Syria, but with the likelihood that such a resolution would be defeated on the Hill and a and a promising Russian diplomatic initiative to defuse the crisis, Obama said he would delay a vote in Congress on the issue.
"It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments," Obama said. "But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force."
Obama's speech capped a series of dramatic diplomatic developments during which the president's war resolution seemed headed for defeat in Congress until Russia endorsed a scheme for Syria to give up its chemical weapons. The plan, which at first seemed to stem from an off-hand remark by Secretary of State John Kerry, is now being described by administration officials as first broached during last year's G-20 meeting in Mexico. Obama and Putin failed to reach an agreement at the time, and White House officials say they were surprised at the speed with which Russia embraced the plan after comments by Kerry that his own spokeswoman described as "rhetorical" and "hypothetical."
With plans for a Congressional authorization no on ice, U.S. officials say they are evaluating the Russian proposal, the specifics of which remain vague but would involve Syria declaring giving up its chemical weapons arsenal. "It has to be swift, it has to be real, and it has to be verifiable," an administration official told the Wall Street Journal. "It can't be a delaying tactic, and if the U.N. Security Council seeks to be the vehicle to make it happen, well then it can't be a debating society."
In an indication of the diplomatic difficulties facing the proposal, Russia on Tuesday rejected a proposed French Security Council resolution that appeared to authorize the use of force if the weapons transfer collapsed. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called that condition "unacceptable."
Kerry and Lavrov will meet in Geneva on Thursday, where Kerry will try to divine whether he has stumbled on a genuine breakthrough or into a cleverly set trap.
Syria chemical weapons: With a Russian proposal for Syria to give up its chemical weapons gathering a head of steam, FP's Yochi Dreazen reports on the massive challenges facing such an undertaking. The plan, according to chemical weapons experts, would be nearly impossible to carry out, and the technical challenges facing such an effort cast significant doubt on the sincerity of Russian and Syrian claims that Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons stocks can be brought under control.
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