By Steven R. Hurst ,AP
September 12, 2013, 12:12 am TWN
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama, after a feverish campaign to win over Congress and the American people to approve military strikes against Syria, said he would give diplomacy more time to rid the country of its chemical weapons arsenal that Washington says was used to gas and kill more than 1,400 people. The president did not say how long he would wait.
While stepping back from what looked to be a certain defeat in his bid for congressional support for a strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s military, Obama still spent most of his 16-minute White House address to the nation Tuesday night making the case for punishing the Syrian regime as a deterrent to further use of chemical weapons — banned by an international treaty — and as a warning to other countries that might be tempted to use them.
“The images from this massacre are sickening. Men, women, and children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at mouth, gasping for breath, a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk,” Obama said. U.S. officials say more than 1,400 people died.
Yet, he said, he would give a diplomatic proposal by Russia, Syria’s most powerful ally, a try. Syria’s foreign minister said Tuesday that his government was ready to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile in line with the proposal in order “to thwart U.S. aggression.”
Polls show a majority of Americans want nothing more to do with U.S. military involvement in the Middle East after the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“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.”
The diplomatic deal that is under discussion, with Assad’s agreement, would put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control for destruction. Obama has sent Secretary of State John Kerry to Geneva to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday to work out the details.
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