WASHINGTON, September 9 (RIA Novosti) – A possible break of the global logjam on Syria emerged Monday as the United States said it would take a “hard look” at an initiative to put Syrian chemical arms under outside control, even as the White House pressed its unpopular case for military action there.
The unexpected initiative originated with US Secretary of State John Kerry. Asked in London if there was anything Syrian President Bashar Assad could do to avert a US strike, Kerry said: “Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week.”
It appeared to be an offhand remark and the US State Department seemed anxious initially to downplay its seriousness, describing it as merely a “rhetorical comment.” However Russia, followed quickly by Syria, instantly endorsed the idea and within hours US media were calling it a “Russian proposal.”
The United Nations also immediately welcomed the initiative, with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon telling reporters that he may urge the UN Security Council “to demand the immediate transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons … to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed.”
The dizzying sequence of events in Washington came as the administration of President Barack Obama continued an intense push in public and behind the scenes to persuade a reluctant US Congress to endorse White House plans for a “limited” military strike on Syria.
Obama spent part of the day taping interviews with six major US television networks to be broadcast late Monday arguing his case for why the United States should take military action in Syria. Obama was also due to deliver a live, primetime televised address to the nation on Tuesday to make the case to Americans.
The widespread skepticism and outright opposition to such a decision among Americans and US lawmakers showed little sign of easing as a fresh opinion poll Monday showed continued strong resistance to military action in Syria and protesters took to the streets in Washington to register their displeasure.
More than seven in 10 Americans say a US strike on Syria would not achieve any significant goals and a similar number say US military involvement in the two-year-old Syrian conflict is not in the US national interest, according to a CNN/ORC International survey published Monday.
The latest poll was released two days after hundreds of people marched from the White House to the Capitol in protest over Obama’s call for military action.
In remarks likely to boost interest in the idea of putting Syrian chemical weapons under international supervision, Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state who is seen as a likely presidential contender and remains an influential public figure, appeared cautiously to endorse the notion.
“If the regime immediately surrendered its stockpiles to international control, as was suggested by Secretary (John) Kerry and the Russians, that would be an important step," Clinton said after meeting with Obama at the White House.
Other White House officials also expressed guarded interest in the plan.
“We want to take a hard look at the proposal,” Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken told reporters at the White House. “We’ll discuss the idea with the Russians.”
The Obama administration also moved quickly to argue that it was the US threat of a military strike against Syria that brought about the latest initiative on the chemical weapons.
“The only reason we are seeing this proposal is because of the threat of US military action in response to Assad’s use of chemical weapons,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Anxious to respond to critics in both main US political parties that its push to launch a strike on Syria was lacking in coherence, the Obama administration also sought to portray such a move as part of a larger and cogent strategy on the Middle East as a whole.
“The bottom line is that standing up to Assad’s use of chemical weapons advances our broader goals in the Middle East,” Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, said in a speech in Washington.
As the White House moved to seize control of the narrative surrounding Kerry’s surprise initiative, the US secretary of state found himself facing fresh criticism from lawmakers after he described the military action being planned by Washington as “unbelievably small.”
Sen. John McCain, a hawkish Republican who has criticized Obama for not planning more robust military action against Syria, took to his Twitter account to say of Kerry’s remark: “That is unbelievably unhelpful.”