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President Barack Obama outlined his case for a military strike, but said he'd asked Congress to hold off voting on it while the world examines a plan put forth by Russia for Syria to relinquish control of its chemical weapons.
President Barack Obama addressed the nation Tuesday night on the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria, in the midst of a stunning diplomatic turnaround that may put any military action on hold.
Should diplomacy fail, the president outlined his case for a military strike against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime in the wake of an alleged chemical weapons attack near Damascus last month that killed as many as 1,400 people, according to US estimates.
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He began his speech by detailing the reported sarin gas attack, calling the images from it "sickening."
"What happened to those people, those children, is not only a violation of international law. It's a danger to our security," Obama said from the White House.
But the president said he was encouraged by signs of a possible diplomatic resolution.
On Monday, Russia put forth a plan for Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons into international control that is gaining global support. Syria's foreign minister agreed to it in principal earlier on Tuesday.
As the initiative fanned hopes of a diplomatic solution, Obama said he asked Congress to postpone a vote on a resolution authorizing military force in Syria to allow a possible compromise to work out.
But he made a strong case against Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons, saying it violates international law and is a "danger to our security."
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While acknowledging America was "not the world's police," Obama said the country's ideals were at stake and promised no open-ended action and no prolonged airstrikes in Syria if military force is approved.
As expected, the president claimed it was America's threat of force that led to the possible diplomatic solution, and promised to keep the military option on the table as the US, UK and France look at Russia's proposal.
"I've ordered our military to maintain their current posture, to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails," he said.
Reaction to Obama's speech was varied.
Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, still undecided on a military strike, said the president made a "great moral argument" for taking action, but still hasn't made it clear this will not "mushroom into something else."
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus ripped Obama for his "rudderless diplomacy" that he claimed has "embarrassed America on the world stage."
"The administration's handling of the US response to Syria has been so haphazard it's disappointed even the president's most ardent supporters," he said in a statement.
Secretary of State John Kerry inadvertently opened the door to diplomatic discussions on Syria, telling reporters on Monday that Assad could avoid military strikes if he turned over his chemical weapons stockpile within a week.
Kerry stressed such an outcome was unlikely, but by Monday night his off-the-cuff remarks had gained international support, particularly from Syria and its ally Russia.
France attempted to draft a United Nations resolution formalizing the proposal under Chapter 7 of the UN charter, but Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called it "unacceptable."
Kerry plans to meet with Lavrov about the possible disarmament plan in Geneva on Thursday.