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Russia Says Enforcing UN Resolution on Syria With Military Action Is Non-Starter

September 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Negotiations got underway among nations of the UN security council on how to reach a diplomatic solution on Syria's chemical weapons. In Washington, lawmakers were both skeptical and relieved by the president's request to delay a vote on military action. Gwen Ifill reports.

GWEN IFILL: Our lead story tonight: The furious pace of developments surrounding Syria gave way today to the more deliberate tempo of diplomacy. President Obama’s call for military action was on hold, as the wait began to see if Syria’s patron, Russia, can deliver on putting Syria’s poison gas beyond use.

JAY CARNEY, White House press secretary: I don’t have a timeline to give to you. What I can say is that it will obviously take some time. There are technical aspects involved in developing a plan for securing Syria’s chemical weapons and verifying their location.

GWEN IFILL: The White House message today: Shifting Syria’s chemical arsenal to international control won’t be easy, but the U.S. won’t tolerate delaying tactics either.

JAY CARNEY: By making this proposal, Russia has, I think, to its credit, put its prestige on the line when it comes to its close ally and the activities of its close ally.

GWEN IFILL: Negotiating began in earnest at the United Nations, where the permanent members of the Security Council, the U.S., Russia, France, Britain, and China, met to discuss what comes next.

The French government wants any U.N. resolution enforced by military action, but Russia says that’s a nonstarter. In Moscow today, lawmakers in the Lower House of Parliament declared the United States shouldn’t resort to force.

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ALEXEI PUSHKOV, Russian State Duma (through interpreter): The military strike on Syria can lead to the most negative consequences. It will lead to more deaths among civilian population, but this time caused by American missiles. It will lead to extremist radical forces seizing power, so it is no accident that even in the United States people say that in case of a strike, the United States will act as al-Qaida’s air force.

GWEN IFILL: In his televised address last night, President Obama called once again for a limited strike. But he said he plans to pursue the Russian proposal to take control of Syria’s weapons cache.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. 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.

GWEN IFILL: The president also asked Congress to delay voting on military action for now. Lawmakers today were both relieved and skeptical.

REP. STEVE ISRAEL, D-N.Y.: I hope that diplomacy is operative. But we have got to dot the I’s and cross the T’s, vet it out and make sure that it is a viable solution.

REP. XAVIER BECERRA,D-Calif.: After years of trying diplomacy, after years of using sanctions and economic tools to try to get the Syrian government to change and trying to get the Russians from blocking progress, to all of a sudden see this last-moment diplomatic effort by the Russians, there’s reason to have pause, to be skeptical.

GWEN IFILL: Left unmentioned in the president’s address: support for the rebels challenging the Syrian government. And a spokesman for the Syrian coalition that represents a number of opposition factions suggested it was a lost opportunity.

KHALID SALEH, The Syrian Coalition: There’s lots of ideas that people have thinking that the opposition is filled with al-Qaida affiliate organizations, and this is not the reality. And we were hoping to see Mr. Obama answer some of those questions.

GWEN IFILL: The spokesman also questioned whether the Russian plan is serious, or just a ploy.

KHALID SALEH: We’re supposed to trust the Russians to actually force Bashar al-Assad to implement this agreement, and we all remember what Mr. Putin called Secretary Kerry, calling him a liar just also less than a week ago. It seems that the Russians are doing all they can to buy Assad more time, and more time means killing more Syrians.

GWEN IFILL: Tomorrow, Secretary of State John Kerry gets to size up Russian intentions for himself, when he meets with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva.