Obama: Diplomatic Solution In Syria Is 'Overwhelmingly My Preference'

Sep 9, 2013
Originally published on September 9, 2013 5:16 pm

After much diplomatic wrangling, President Obama on Monday left open the possibility of a diplomatic solution in Syria, saying a proposal allowing Syria to give up its chemical weapons was a "potentially positive development."

In interviews with six television network anchors, Obama said his administration would "run to ground" a Russian proposal that would avoid an international military confrontation by putting Syria's chemical weapons in international hands. As we reported, Secretary of State John Kerry first floated the possibility during a press conference in England this morning. The proposal was then picked up by the Russians and Syria's foreign minister said the country welcomed the overture.

In an interview with PBS, President Obama said if there is a diplomatic path to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria it would be "overwhelmingly my preference."

Obama also added that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had talked about the plan now on the table both during the recent G-20 meeting in Russia and during another meeting last year in Mexico.

In other words, the proposal is a true diplomatic breakthrough long in the making.

Obama said his administration will work with Russia to see if Syria is serious about the proposal and to see if they can reach a deal that is "enforceable and serious."

However, Obama said that he will ask Congress to move forward with a debate on whether to approve military action against Syria.

Now, Obama said, is not the time to let up on the pressure.

"We would not be at this point if there were not a credible military threat standing behind the norm against the use of chemical weapons," Obama said.

We updated this post as we worked our way through the six interviews. Keep reading if you want highlights from all of them:

Update at 7:12 p.m. ET. Hasn't Decided On Moving Without Congress:

Over the past few days, much has been made about what Obama would do if Congress rejects Obama's plan to attack Syria.

On NBC News, Obama said he had not yet decided if he would move forward with the strikes, even if Congress rejected the proposal. Obama also admitted that he was not confident that the proposal would pass both the House and Senate.

In fact, as those interviews were airing, the AP reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democrat from Nevada, announced he was delaying a test vote on a measure authorizing military force in Syria.

Update at 6:22 p.m. ET. Something 'Enforceable And Serious':

In an interview with CNN, President Obama said a proposal to have Syria give up its chemical weapons was a "potentially positive development."

But Obama cautioned that it could be a stall tactic by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Echoing the words he used on other networks Obama told CNN: "We're going to run this to ground," working with Russia to "to see if we can arrive at something that is enforceable and serious."

Update at 6:35 p.m. ET. High Stakes But Not Immediate:

"This is one of those situations where the stakes are high, but they're not immediate," Obama told ABC News. "There will be time for the Russians and Syrians to work with us."

That means that Obama is not expecting a vote in Congress this week, but that "now is not the time to let up on that" pressure.

Obama said that his intention all along was to stop Assad from using chemical weapons again and if that can be accomplished diplomatically, that is his preference.

But Obama said he still moving forward with a Congressional vote on limited strikes against Syria.

On NBC News, Obama said he is taking the vote in Congress and the opinion of the American people "very seriously."

"I knew by bringing this to Congress there was a risk that the American people just could not arrive at a consensus even around a limited strike," he told NBC.

"It's my belief that for me, the president, to act without consensus in a situation where there's not a direct, imminent threat to the homeland or our interests around the world, that that's not the kind of precedent I want to set," Obama added.

Update at 6:12 p.m. Diplomatic Solution Is Obama's Preference:

In an interview with PBS, President Obama said if there is a diplomatic path to stop the use of chemical weapons in Syria it would be "overwhelmingly my preference."

But Obama said the threat of military action is important.

"We would not be at this point if there were not a credible military threat standing behind the norm against the use of chemical weapons," Obama said.

Obama also added that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had talked about the plan now on the table both during the recent G-20 meeting in Russia and during another meeting last year in Mexico.

In other words, this is a true diplomatic breakthrough, not a plan that was born from a flippant reference by Secretary of State John Kerry.

Update at 6:05 p.m. ET. Welcome Russian Plan:

In an interview with Fox News, President Obama said he "welcomed" a plan that would have Syria give up its chemical weapons.

He said they would "run [that option] to the ground"over the coming days.

Obama said he welcomed the possibility of a diplomatic solution and that his administration would "exhaust all avenues of a diplomatic resolution."

Obama also said that it was important to keep up the pressure on Syria.

Update at 5:32 p.m. ET. The Anchors Wait:

Pat Shevlin, the executive producer of CBS Evening News, tweeted this photograph of the network anchors waiting for their turn to interview Obama:

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