Obama hits pause button on Syria strike, but military force still an option

Washington – Connecticut’s congressional delegation, skeptical about President Obama’s planned military strike against Syria, welcomed the president’s willingness to give last-minute diplomacy a chance.

In a 16-minute prime time address Tuesday night, Obama was firm in his determination to end Syrian President Bashar Assad’s capability to use chemical weapons.

“If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons,” Obama said. ”As the ban against these weapons erodes… it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons and to use them to attack civilians.”

The Obama administration insists that Assad killed more than 1,400 Syrians with sarin gas Aug. 21 in an attempt to rid a Damascus suburb of rebels.

But, as the president struggled to win authorization from Congress for a military strike, Russia came up with a proposal that would allow Syria to turn over its chemical stockpile and avoid a U.S. airstrike.

Obama said he asked congressional leaders to delay a vote on the Syria resolution to give this last-ditch diplomatic effort a chance.

“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,” Obama said in his address from the East Room of the White House.

Connecticut’s lawmakers are relieved that Obama is considering a diplomatic solution that would avert an air strike — and the need for congressional votes on the use of force.

Like most Connecticut lawmakers, Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, is undecided on how she would vote for a Syria resolution.

“The newly emerging possibility of bringing Syria to the U.N. with a diplomatic resolution to secure the chemical weapons, if the proposal can be effectively negotiated, is a very important development that should be pursued,” she said.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., the only member of the Connecticut congressional delegation who isn’t undecided on the question of Syria – he is a firmly against the use of force – said he thouight Obama “made a very compelling case” Tuesday night.

“But I still believe the risks of military action outweigh benefits,” Murphy said.

Senators were shown videos of dying Syrian children Tuesday at their weekly caucus lunches, which Obama attended to take questions from skeptical lawmakers.

Murphy said his “stomach turned” at the images, but he maintained there was no way a U.S .military strike would make a difference.

He said he was hopeful about “the very positive offer from the Russians,” but is likely to reject alternate resolutions making the rounds of Congress Tuesday that would authorize military force only after the failure of diplomatic efforts.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said he was “hopeful that a verifiable, enforceable and timely diplomatic solution will be the American and world response to Syria’s deplorable actions.”

Blumenthal, who had initially said that a U.S. air strike would send Assad “a message,” was highly critical of a resolution that would authorize a limited air strike on Syria.

“I remain concerned about the resolution now before the Senate authorizing the use of military force,” Blumenthal said. “It is too broadly written, lacks international support and risks entangling us in Syria’s protracted civil war.”

Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, has embraced the proposed diplomatic solution and said “after hearing from my constituents, I know this is the correct approach…”

Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said the president made a strong case, “but no man, not even the president, can predict what might happen amid the fog of war.”

“I’m pleased the president is open to a diplomatic solution that removes chemical weapons from the Syrian battlefield and will do what I can to advance that objective,” Himes said.

With the pressure temporarily off Congress, the focus shifts to the United Nations Security Council where the United States and its allies will try to win support from Russia and China for a resolution requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and destroy them under international control.

Secretary of State John Kerry has been dispatched to Geneva, where he plans to meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Thursday to discuss the issue.

 

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