Obama facing pressure from Putin, Hill to back off Syria strike ahead of speech
President Obama, hours before his address to the nation on Syria, found his foreign policy in danger Tuesday of being hijacked by Vladimir Putin and his own Congress.
The president, along with Secretary of State John Kerry, is still pushing for a possible vote in Congress to authorize military force in response to a chemical weapons attack last month. At the same time, his administration is pursuing a diplomatic proposal that would have the Assad regime turn over its chemical weapons to international control.
But one of his top congressional allies, as well as Putin himself, are now calling for Congress to back off the strike vote.
Putin reportedly said Tuesday that the only way the diplomatic option can work is if "we hear that the American side and all those who support the United States in this sense reject the use of force."
The comment came as Syria's foreign minister embraced the proposal to turn over chemical weapons. The official said Tuesday that Syria would declare its chemical weapons arsenal and sign the chemical weapons convention.
Earlier in the day, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi also claimed there was no need for a congressional vote.
"It is not necessary for Congress to give the president this authority," Pelosi said. "We are grateful that he has asked for it but if he sees an opportunity we don't want the Russians to think that his leverage is diminished because of a vote (that) may or may not succeed within the Congress."
The push-back from Washington and Moscow poses a challenge for Obama, as he finds himself caught between two very different paths on Syria -- a missile strike that potentially drags the U.S. into a bloody civil war, and a diplomatic solution that would likely do little to end that war.
It's unclear whether Obama, in his speech set for Tuesday night, will push one option over the other. But it may be incumbent on Obama to clarify which way he wants to go, as the international community and many in Congress try to walk back the U.S. from the brink of a missile strike.
The momentum, at least temporarily, appeared to be running in favor of the diplomatic course.
The U.N. Security Council plans to meet at 4 p.m. ET to discuss a resolution.
And on Capitol Hill, a bipartisan group of eight senators started writing an alternative resolution that would call on the United Nations to state that Syria used chemical weapons and require a U.N. team to remove the chemical weapons from Syria within a specific time period, possibly 60 days. If that can't be done, then Obama would have the authority to launch military strikes, congressional aides said.
The senators working on the proposal are Republicans John McCain, Kelly Ayotte, Lindsey Graham and Saxby Chambliss along with Democrats Chris Coons, Bob Casey, Chuck Schumer, Carl Levin and Bob Menendez.
The prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough unfolded rapidly as Assad's government accepted a Russia-advanced plan to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile, and France pitched a U.N. Security Council resolution to verify the disarmament. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said after meeting with the Russian parliament speaker that his government quickly agreed to the Russian initiative to "thwart U.S. aggression."