SYRIA STRIKE TEST VOTE PUT ON HOLD AS OBAMA BACKS OFF ‘RED LINE’

Fox News on September 10, 2013, reported that US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid unexpectedly postponed a test vote on authorizing President Obama to order military strikes against Syria set for September 11 hours after the president took a sharp turn away from his “red line” threat to Syria on the eve of taking his case to the American people, saying in an interview with Fox News that he’s open to negotiations on an alternative plan that could avert a military strike. Excerpts below:

Reid cited “international discussions” in postponing the vote to advance debate on the resolution authorizing the use of force against the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Reid says it was not important to, “see how fast we can do this,” but rather “how well we can do this.”

Legislation approved in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week would give Obama a maximum of 90 days to carry out a military attack, and it includes a ban on combat operations on the ground in Syria. Both of those limitations were last-minute concessions to critics of a military option, and it was unclear whether Reid would seek additional changes to build support.

But in the interview aired on the evening of September 9, the president responded to a proposal, formally put forward by the Russians, to have the Assad regime turn over its chemical weapons to international control.

“We will pursue this diplomatic track,” Obama told Fox News. “I fervently hope that this can be resolved in a non-military way.”

The president, while saying his advisers would “run to ground” that proposal, indicated he still wants Congress to debate a resolution to authorize a strike against Syria. “I think it is important for us not to let the pedal off the metal when it comes to making sure they understand we mean what we say,” Obama said.

…the president’s decision to pursue the diplomatic track is a departure from his decision more than a week ago to pursue a military strike. And it could bring the temperature down a notch in the ongoing stand-off between his administration and the Assad government.

The president’s comments come after a proposal to have the Syrian government relinquish control of its stockpile quickly caught fire in the international community and in Washington.

Secretary of State John Kerry touched off the discussion with an off-hand remark that Syria could only avert military action if it turned over its weapons within a week.

…Russia’s foreign minister formally proposed the idea to Syria, and the Assad government said it welcomed the plan.

As the United Nations secretary-general and several U.S. allies gravitated toward the proposal, the Obama administration conceded that it would seriously consider it.

Obama said the U.S. should be able to get a “fairly rapid sense” of how serious the proposal is. “We are going to be immediately talking to the Russians and looking for some actual language they might be proposing,” he said.

But Obama said it’s important to “keep the pressure on.” Roughly quoting the late President Ronald Reagan, he said: “It’s not enough just to trust. I think we’re going to have to verify.”

The president said the idea of negotiating this kind of solution is “something that is not new.”

A new Fox News Poll shows that public disapproval of Obama’s handling of Syria has jumped from 40 percent to 60 percent. It also found just 36 percent favor using force to punish Syria for using chemical weapons; 61 percent oppose taking that step.

With the proposal so unpopular in the polls, Obama is having a difficult time selling the idea of a strike to Congress. A Senate test vote could still be held later this week, but the White House is struggling to corral the 60 votes that likely will be necessary to advance it.

The administration faces an even tougher time in the Republican-controlled House.

Obama stressed in the interview that the situation in Syria is “difficult,” but the U.S. was looking at taking action because chemical weapons — which the administration accuses the Assad regime of using — are “indiscriminate.” But he also said he understands Americans’ skepticism over U.S. involvement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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