In a deal that could avert a massive escalation in the crisis in Syria, President Bashar Assad has accepted a last minute 'way out' deal with the Russians to prevent the US from bombing it for the use of chemical weapons. Reports the Associated Press:
PARIS (AP) -- Syria has accepted a Russian proposal to place its chemical weapons under international control for dismantling, the Syrian foreign minister said Tuesday, amid a flurry of diplomatic activity aimed at averting Western military action.
Speaking in Moscow, Walid al-Moallem said his government quickly agreed to the plan to "derail U.S. aggression" - an allusion to possible U.S.-led strikes over a deadly Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus that Western powers blame on the Syrian regime. Syrian President Bashar Assad has denied the claim.
Russia, Syria's most powerful ally, is now working with Damascus to prepare a detailed plan of action that will be presented soon, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.
Russia will then be ready to finalize the plan with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made off the cuff remarks when asked if there were steps the Syrian president could take to avert an American-led attack. “Sure," he told a reporter at a press conference in London. "He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting.”
The State Department walked Kerry's comments back, stating that the Secretary of State was "making a rhetorical argument", but the apparent gaffe was taken seriously by Wladimir Putin who instructed foreign minister Sergey Lavrov to float the idea to the Syrians. Stated Lavrov: "if the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in the country will prevent attacks, then we will immediately begin work with Damascus...we call on the Syrian leadership to not only agree to setting the chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also to their subsequent destruction.”
While remaining cautious, Obama described Russia's offer as a "possible breakthrough" and a "potentially positive development" in a series of television interviews last night.
The New York Times is reporting that the potential deal offers Obama a way out from a crisis that could severely damage his Presidency, in part given his decision to go to Congress to get authorization:
Even if he does not trust Mr. Putin, Mr. Obama will have to decide whether to treat the Russian proposal seriously or assume it is merely a means of obstructing an American military strike.
“Putin knows that everyone wants an out, so he’s providing one,” said Fiona Hill, a former national intelligence officer and co-author of “Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin.” “It seems like a bold idea that will get everyone, including Obama, out of a bind that they don’t want to be in.”
Obama is set to deliver a major speech to the nation tonight on Syria where he will spell out his administration's position on the crisis and his proposed course of action.
Stay tuned for more updates.