Obama: “I want to make sure that the norm against [the] use of chemical weapons is maintained”

US President Barack Obama has said he will put plans for a US military strike against Syria on hold if the country agrees to place its chemical weapons stockpile under international control.

But he said he was sceptical the Syrian government would follow through.

As the US Congress debates authorising an attack, Russia on Monday proposed Syria relinquish its chemical weapons.

The US accuses Damascus of war crimes including use of chemical weapons, allegations denied by the regime.

The US president on Monday gave a series of television interviews aimed at building support among a US Congress and public wary of new military action in the Middle East.

The president maintains a limited strike is needed to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime for the use of chemical weapons and to deter it from using them again.

“I want to make sure that norm against use of chemical weapons is maintained,” Mr Obama told ABC News.

“That’s in our national security interest. If we can do that without a military strike, that is overwhelmingly my preference.”

Asked by Diane Sawyer of ABC News if he would put plans for an attack on pause should Mr Assad yield control of his chemical weapons, Mr Obama answered: “Absolutely, if in fact that happened.”

Mr Obama said he would continue to press the US Congress to back a resolution authorising him to take military action against Syria, but he implied the timeline for action had shifted.

“The stakes are high, but they are long term,” he said, adding that he did not “foresee a succession of votes this week, or any time in the immediate future”.

FSA fighters

On the ground, the Syrian conflict is still raging

But he added: “I don’t think that we would have gotten to this point unless we had maintained a credible possibility of a military strike, and I don’t think now is the time for us to let up on that.”

US senators had been expected to take a first vote on the issue on Wednesday, but the test vote on the legislation was postponed on Monday by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who cited “international discussions” as a reason for the delay.

Many US politicians and members of the public remain concerned that military action could draw the nation into a prolonged war and spark broader hostilities in the region.

Support in Congress for a measure authorising attacks on Syria has remained relatively low, with more than 230 of the 433 members in the House of Representatives reportedly either opposed to or likely to oppose strikes as of Friday.

In addition, opinion polls suggest Americans remain wary of a strike against Syria, with only one in five believing that a failure to respond to chemical weapons attacks would embolden other governments, according to an Associated Press poll concluded on Monday.

Meanwhile, a new report by US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), said evidence “strongly suggests” Syrian government forces were behind the deadly 21 August chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds of people.

HRW concludes that the nerve agent used in the incident was “most likely sarin”.

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Source:http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24026619

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