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U.S. and Russia Volley Over Diplomatic Solution to Syria’s Chemical Arms

September 10, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we delve fully into the Syria story and today’s diplomatic dance over the Assad regime’s chemical weapons.

Ray Suarez begins our coverage.

SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Were waiting for that proposal. But we’re not waiting for long.

RAY SUAREZ: At a House hearing, Secretary of State John Kerry put Russia on notice about its plan to put Syria’s poison gas under international control.

JOHN KERRY: But it has to be swift, it has to be real, it has to be verifiable. It cannot be a delaying tactic.

RAY SUAREZ: Kerry demanded a binding U.N. resolution with tough consequences. In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Russia is serious, but the U.S. is making things difficult.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): Undoubtedly, all of this makes sense and can work only in the event that we hear that the American side and those who support the U.S. in this sense reject the use of force, because it’s hard to make any country, Syria or another country, any other state in the world, disarm on a unilateral basis if an attack is being prepared against it.

RAY SUAREZ: The French foreign minister said his government was drafting a resolution that calls for verifying Russia’s plan.

LAURENT FABIUS, French Foreign Minister (through interpreter): We think and we know that Syria has 1,000 tons of chemical weapons, and that’s enormous. Those weapons are obviously very difficult to locate and destroy. And it’s obviously not the Russians and the Syrians that can be entrusted to do this alone. There must be international verification.

RAY SUAREZ: And it was clear the negotiations won’t be easy. The U.N. Security Council first scheduled an emergency closed-door session on Syria, then canceled it, saying the Russians had withdrawn their request.

Amid the diplomatic back and forth, the killing continued inside Syria. Amateur video posted online showed new shelling by government forces in parts of Damascus. And back in Washington, the president’s team, including Secretary Kerry, pursued its request for Congress to authorize military force against Syria.

JOHN KERRY: A lot of people say that nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of a hanging. Well, it’s the credible threat of force that has been on the table for these last weeks that has, for the first time, brought this regime to even acknowledge that they have a chemical weapons arsenal.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Obama made his own visit to Capitol Hill this afternoon to lobby senators from both parties.

Senate aides told the NewsHour the president backs a delay to allow the diplomatic process to play out and that senators seem supportive of waiting. At the same time, the Associated Press reported a majority of senators were opposed to military action or leaning against it. In the House, it was 6-1 against.

The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, became the first congressional leader to oppose the resolution.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky: All interventions are not created equal. And this proposal just doesn’t stand up.

RAY SUAREZ: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid postponed a test vote on the resolution that had been set for tomorrow. He insisted today the delay will not be indefinite.

SEN. HARRY REID, D-Nev.: The Senate should give these international discussions time to play out, but not unlimited time.

RAY SUAREZ: On the House side, Speaker John Boehner said he is taking a wait-and-see approach in light of the diplomatic efforts.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, R-Ohio: Clearly, diplomacy is always a better outcome than military action. But I will say that I’m somewhat skeptical of those that are involved in the diplomatic discussion today.

RAY SUAREZ: In his interview with the NewsHour yesterday, the president acknowledged he faces an uphill climb with lawmakers, as well as a war-weary public.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don’t think that I’m going to convince, you know, the overwhelming majority of the American people to take any kind of military action, but I believe I can make a very strong case to Congress, as well as the American people, about why we can’t leave our children a world in which other children are being subjected to nerve gas.

RAY SUAREZ: The president will take that case directly to the public this evening when he addresses the nation at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time.