Obama sees possible 'breakthrough' in Russia's Syria plan

Washington, Sep 10 (IANS) In a day of swift developments, President Barack Obama called Russia's proposal to have Syria surrender its chemical weapons as "potentially positive" development," even as he kept pressing for the military option.

Though somewhat sceptical about it, Obama suggested during in an unprecedented media blitz on six TV networks Monday that Moscow's new proposal resulted from his threat of a punitive military strike on Syria for allegedly using poison gas on rebels strongholds.

"It's possible that we can get a breakthrough, but it's going to have to be followed up on, and we don't want just a stalling or delaying tactic to put off the pressure that we have on them right now," Obama told CNN.

"We're going to run this to ground," Obama said adding the US will work with Moscow and the international community "to see if we can arrive at something that is enforceable and serious."

"We have not seen these kinds of gestures up until now," he said referring to his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during last week's G20 summit in St. Petersburg when they agreed to disagree on the US push for a military response.

"The fact that the US administration and I have said we are serious about this, I think, has prompted some interesting conversations," Obama said.

Obama, who is set to make a televised address from the White House Tuesday night to make his case for a military strike against Syria, declined to say what he would do if the Congress rejects his proposal amid little popular support for getting sucked into another war in the Middle East.

"I think it's fair to say that I haven't decided. I am taking this vote in Congress and what the American people are saying very seriously," Obama told NBC. He also told ABC that there was no time limit for an agreement.

When asked by PBS about Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's claim that the US is lying about his use of chemical weapons, Obama said there can be no diplomatic solution if the Syrian president keeps making statements that are "untrue."

Obama's media appearnances capped off a day of remarks in support of a Syria strike from high-profile surrogates, including Secretary of State John Kerry, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, as well as Rice deputies Tony Blinken and Ben Rhodes.

Following the Russian proposal, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to hold off on an initial Senate vote on authorising a military strike against Syria that had been expected on Wednesday. CNN cited an aide as saying the Russian proposal is serious and fluid enough that members do not want to lock themselves into a position on Syria just yet.

The Russian proposal came after Moscow seized on a comment by Kerry in London that the Assad regime could stave off an attack by handing over his entire stock of chemical weapons to international control within a week. Though John Kerry also said he had no expectation that Assad would comply, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem quickly welcomed a proposal by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during talks in Moscow Monday.

Meanwhile, a day before a planned speech to win popular support on Syria, a new CNN/ORC International poll showed Obama's approval rating on foreign policy has dropped to 40 percent -- the lowest mark of his presidency -- from 54 percent in January.

While Obama's overall performance is holding steady at 45 percent, only three in 10 approve of how Obama is handling the crisis in Syria, the poll indicated, and 63 percent disapprove.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)

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