Failing To Convince on War, US Agrees to Follow Russia's Path To UN
White House accepts moves by Russia to stem push for war by brokering agreement at the United Nations
Update (11:54 AM EST):
Russia's push for a brokered settlement over the crisis in Syria appears to be gaining traction in Washington.
The Obama administration—finding very little success in its aggressive push for war—announced on Tuesday it is now willing to entertain talks with Russia and other members of the UN Security Council over a plan (see below) that would see Syria hand over control of chemical weapons to international monitors in a bid to avoid military intervention.
According to a tweet by the Associated Press late Tuesday morning:
BREAKING: AP source says Obama agrees to UN discussion on Russia's proposal for Syria's chemical weapons.
— The Associated Press (@AP) September 10, 2013
And The Hill reports:
According to the White House, Obama spoke separately to French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron Tuesday morning on a Russian-brokered plan that would have Syria relinquish its chemical weapons to interntional control.
"They agreed to work closely together, and in consultation with Russia and China, to explore seriously the viability of the Russian proposal to put all Syrian chemical weapons and related materials fully under international control in order to ensure their verifiable and enforceable destruction," the White House official said.
"These efforts will begin today at the United Nations, and will include a discussion on elements of a potential U.N. Security Council resolution."
None of this, however, indicates that there's a done deal at the UN. In fact, the Russians are reportedly unimpressed so far with the language drafted for the resolution by the French delegation. According to Reuters:
Russia is not keen at this stage for a binding U.N. Security Council resolution that would provide a framework to control Syria's chemical weapons' stocks, France's foreign minister said after talks with his Russian counterpart on Tuesday.
"As I understood, the Russians at this stage were not necessarily enthusiastic, and I'm using euphemism, to put all that into the framework of a U.N. binding resolution," Laurent Fabius told French lawmakers after a telephone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
In a related development, a group of U.S. senators are reported to be drafting a new resolution for Congress that would authorize the use of military force only if the Syrians fail to satisfy an international agreement to hand over their chemical weapons stockpiles.
As the New York Times reports:
The group of senators, including some of President Obama’s biggest supporters and critics, were drafting an alternative Congressional resolution that would give the United Nations time to take control of the Syrian government’s arsenal of the internationally banned weapons.
If the alternative resolution gained political traction, it could stave off a Congressional vote — and possibly a debilitating defeat for the Obama administration — in the coming days on a more immediate resolution authorizing the use of force, which a majority of Americans appear to oppose. That resolution, approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, had been losing ground in both parties in recent days. Passage appeared increasingly difficult in the House and possibly the Senate as well.
Tuesday's developments allowed those pushing for a negotiated settlement to experience hope for avoiding a rush for immediate military strikes, but the threat of war still lingers.
Indeed, as new developments in the international arena continued to play out Tuesday, key members of Obama's foreign policy team were sitting before the House Armed Services Committee pushing the case for war as hard as ever.
And as reporting by Inter Press Service point outs, a path through the UN is not necessarily a path away from war.
As the Obama administration continues to make its "myth-addled" case for war against Syria to an unconvinced Congress and an even more skeptical American public, new developments in the international arena are showing that the U.N. Security Council may still have a role to play in avoiding an attack by the U.S. and its allies.
Picking up on Russia's offer to facilitate such a deal, the French on Tuesday announced their intention to introduce a resolution at the U.N. that would demand Syria divulge and hand over control of any chemical weapons it may possess.
In response to Russia's backing of a possible deal, Syria's Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said on Tuesday that his country accepts the idea of a negotiated settlement.
"Yesterday [Monday] we held a round of very fruitful negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and he put forward an initiative regarding chemical weapons. Already in the evening we accepted Russia's initiative," Muallem said, according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
It's not yet clear how the Russian plan discussed with Damascus will align with the language to be introduced by the French.
However, exploring the details of the French-backed resolution at the U.N., the Associated Press reports:
[Foreign Minister] Laurent Fabius said France, a permanent member of the 15-nation U.N. body, will start the resolution process on Tuesday under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which is militarily enforceable. The proposal would also condemn a chemical weapons attack near Damascus on Aug. 21 that Western powers allege was carried out by Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime — a claim he has denied. [...]
Fabius said the resolution, based around five points, would demand that Syria "bring fully to light" its chemical weapons program. The measure would also set up international inspections and controls of the dismantling process, and would carry "very serious consequences" if the commitment were violated.
Asked to weigh in on the idea of a renewed role for the U.N. Security Council, President Obama said Monday that though he was skeptical of Russian intentions on the matter, an international agreement could "potentially be a significant breakthrough."
In a separate media interview, Obama said that he would "absolutly" call off strikes against Syria if the chemical weapons issue could be resolved.
"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," the president said in an interview with ABC News.
Despite that, Obama said he would continue to push Congress for authorization to use military force. "I don't think we would have gotten to this point unless we had maintained a credible possibility for a military strike and I don't think now is the time for us to let up on that," Obama added.
However, that prospect continued to dim for the White House, as members in both houses of Congress remain deeply divided and skeptical over the president's case for war.
With the U.S. public's opposition to a new war in the Middle East holding fast, Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-UT) delayed a procedural vote in the Senate on Monday evening, pushing back a full vote on the resolution in the Senate that was expected on Wednesday.
Reid—who supports passage of the authorization—said the delay should not be taken as a sign that the Senate doesn't have the votes, but that claim is challenged by reporting from the hill.
As Politico reports:
Opposition is growing to a U.S. strike on Syria among Obama’s allies and former colleagues in his own party, a sign that there is a real chance that the White House could fall short of the 50 votes it needs to win in the Senate, according to several sources familiar with the situation.
Publicly and privately, an increasing number of Democrats are signaling they won’t go along with the resolution, at least not right now. While just six Senate Democrats have publicly announced their opposition, that number could increase dramatically in coming days, Democratic sources say.