WASHINGTON (AP) — Pushing military might and raising hopes it won't be needed, President Barack Obama threw his support Tuesday behind a plan for U.N. Security Council talks aimed at securing Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, even as he continued to advance the fallback idea of U.S. airstrikes against Bashar Assad's regime.
Seizing on that two-track strategy, a bipartisan group of senators crafted a reworked congressional resolution calling for a U.N. team to remove the chemical weapons by a set deadline and authorizing military action if that doesn't happen.
Obama discussed plans for U.N. action with French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron before traveling to Capitol Hill to talk over diplomatic and military options with Democratic and Republican senators growing increasingly wary of U.S. military intervention. He was poised to address the American people from the White House on Tuesday night, still ready to press the case for congressionally-approved military action if diplomacy falls short.
"The key is, to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, that we don't just trust, but we also verify," Obama said in an interview with CBS. "The importance is to make sure that the international community has confidence that these chemical weapons are under control, that they are not being used, that potentially they are removed from Syria and that they are destroyed."
The dramatic shift in the president's tone came after weeks of threatening tough reprisals on the Assad regime and in the face of stiff resistance in Congress to a resolution that would authorize him to use military force.
A majority of the senators staking out positions or leaning in one direction were expressing opposition, according to an Associated Press survey. The count in the House was far more lopsided, with representatives rejecting military action by more than a 6-1 margin even as the leaders of both parties in the House professed their support.
On Tuesday, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell became the first congressional leader to come out against a resolution giving the president authority for limited strikes, saying, "there are just too many unanswered questions about our long-term strategy in Syria." In another blow to the administration, Democratic Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, announced his opposition, saying the resolution was too broad, "the effects of a strike are too unpredictable, and because I believe we must give diplomatic measures that could avoid military action a chance to work."
Eager for an alternative, a bipartisan group of senators worked on a retooled resolution that would call on the United Nations to state that Syria used chemical weapons and require a U.N. team to remove them within a specific time period, possibly 60 days. If that can't be done, then Obama would have the authority to launch military strikes, congressional aides said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the reworked resolution.
The prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough unfolded rapidly as Assad's government accepted a Russia-advanced plan to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile and France pitched a U.N. Security Council resolution to verify the disarmament. Secretary of State John Kerry said Obama, Holland and Cameron "agreed to work closely together in consultation with Russia and China to explore the viability of the Russian proposal" to put all Syrian chemical weapons "under the control of a verifiable destruction enforcement mechanism."
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