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Obama puts off Syria strike amid fresh diplomatic push

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-09-11

US President Barack Obama said in a televised speech late Tuesday that he has asked Congress to delay voting on US military action in Syria, saying that a Russia-backed initiative to neutralise Syria's chemical weapons should be given a chance.

US President Barack Obama postponed the possibility of military strikes on Syria Tuesday, vowing to explore a fresh diplomatic push to gather and destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal.

In an address from the White House late Tuesday, Obama said he had asked US lawmakers to delay a vote on whether to authorise military action while Washington studies the Russia-backed initiative.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said Tuesday that Damascus had "already agreed" to the proposal.

Obama said he would stay in personal contact with Russia's President Vladimir Putin and would dispatch Secretary of State John Kerry to Geneva for talks on Thursday with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

"It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed,” Obama warned. “But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad's strongest allies."

Obama said he had ordered US forces to remain on standby should talks fail, but set no deadlines for diplomacy to run its course.

“This speech was supposed to be about Obama convincing the public and congressmen that a military intervention in Syria is the right choice," said FRANCE 24's Washington correspondent Philip Crowther. "But Russia's move means the speech evolved into something entirely different.”

A deterrent for tyrants

The Russian offer has given Obama a lifeline as he fights an uphill battle to persuade Congress and the American public to support a strike on Syria.

Obama made his threat of strikes in response to an August 21 attack in which Syrian forces killed 1,400 people in rebel-held suburbs of Damascus using sarin gas, according to Washington.

"Speech opens up two tracks"

He defended the military option again Tuesday in an emotional passage about the horrors of the massacre, and said allowing a dictator to use chemical arms would threaten US security.

"If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons," Obama said. "As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them."

FRANCE 24's chief foreign editor Robert Parsons said the US president delivered a strong message on national security.

“Obama said we have to accept that if Assad were to get away with the use of chemical weapons on this massive scale, then he and others – not just dictators but also terrorist organisations – would be encouraged to go even further,” Parsons said.

However, the US president pledged not to use military force until United Nations weapons inspectors have delivered their report on what happened.

Obama also stressed that any US military action would be limited, nothing like the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that he has spent much of his presidency winding down.

“No American troops will be on the ground in Syria if action is taken,” Obama said.

Back to the UN

Earlier on Tuesday, Syria promised to abide by Russia’s proposal and renounce chemical weapons.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem told Russia's Interfax news agency: "We are ready to state where the chemical weapons are, to halt production of chemical weapons and show these installations to representatives of Russia, other countries and the UN."

Putin, Assad's most powerful foreign ally, said the Syrian offer could end the crisis, but only if the United States withdraws its threat to take punitive action.

"It all makes sense and can work if the US side and all those who support it renounce the use of force," Putin said, according to Russian television.

Washington's allies France and Britain said they were drawing up a tough UN resolution that would authorise enforcement action if Syria failed to hand over its weapons.

"It will provide for extremely serious consequences in the event of Syria violating its obligations," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said.

The Syrian crisis flared when Assad's forces launched a brutal crackdown on anti-regime protests in March 2011, and spiralled into a civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)


Date created : 2013-09-11


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