In a dramatic turn of events, Syria today agreed to a Russian proposal to surrender its chemical weapons to "uproot US aggression", hours after President Barack Obama said he would "absolutely" put on hold any military strike on the country if it does so.
Pouncing on a casual remark by US Secretary of State John Kerry that Syria could avoid a military attack by turning over its chemical weapons, Russia yesterday proposed to Damascus to put its chemical weapons stockpiles under international control and then have them destroyed.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem welcomed the proposal and said his country quickly "agreed to the Russian initiative" to "uproot US aggression."
"We had a round of very fruitful negotiations with (Russian Foreign Minister) Sergei Lavrov and he came forward with an initiative on chemical weapons," Muallem said after a meeting with Russian parliament (Duma) speaker Sergei Naryshkin in Moscow today.
The proposal, put forward by Russia - a key ally of Syria - and supported by its allies China and Iran, is a dramatic shift after America was gearing up for weeks to launch attacks against the embattled regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.
After the recent developments, described as "potentially significant breakthrough" by President Obama, Kerry today said, "We're waiting for that proposal. But we're not waiting for long."
His remarks came after Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov promised to come up with a proposal to achieve the plan.
Such a move "would be the ultimate way to degrade and deter" the arsenal held by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Kerry told the House Armed Services Committee.
He vowed that President Obama - who is due to address the nation - "will take a hard look at it, but it has to be swift. It has to be real."
"It has to be verifiable," Kerry insisted but warned it would be "exceedingly difficult".
Earlier in the day, Russia announced that it was holding talks with the Assad regime to formulate a "workable, precise and concrete" plan for the smooth transfer of the chemical weapons.
"We (Russia) are currently working on preparing a workable, precise and concrete plan and for this there are literally right now, in these minutes, contacts with the Syrian side," Lavrov said today.
"We expect to present this plan soon and we will be ready to work on it with the UN secretary general, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, with the participation of members of the UN Security Council," Lavrov said.
Meanwhile, US media reports said American Senators are working on a plan that would call on the UN Security Council to state that Syria has chemical weapons and require a UN team to remove them within a specific time, possibly 60 days.
If this cannot be done, then President Obama would have the authority to launch military strikes on Syria.
President Obama, in separate interviews with six US news channels, said: "If Syrian President gives up his chemical weapons, a military strike would absolutely be on pause."
He also called the Russian proposal a "potentially significant breakthrough."
"Absolutely, if, in fact, that happened," Obama said when asked if the military strike was on pause if Assad yields control of his chemical weapons to international authority.
"That's in our national security interest. If we can do that without a military strike, that is overwhelmingly my preference. And now the key is, can we see a sense of urgency?" Obama told ABC News.
Asserting that he always preferred a diplomatic resolution to the Syrian crisis, Obama said, "I fervently hope that this can be resolved in a non-military way."
Obama, unsure of getting enough Congressional support on Syria, said that he would take a final decision after talking to American people directly.
According a media report, Obama could fall short of 50 votes needed to get Senate authorisation for a military strike against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
The US had alleged that sarin - a deadly nerve agent - was used by the Assad regime near Damascus on August 21 that left at least 1,429 civilians, including over 400 children, dead. The Syrian government denied the charge, saying rebels had used the deadly gas to defame it.
In Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius today said France would place forward a resolution in the Security Council to press Syria to dismantle its chemical weapons. It would also condemn the chemical weapons attack in Damascus.
In Cairo, the Arab League head Nabil Elaraby expressed the group's backing for the Russian proposal, saying the League has been always in favour of a "political resolution."
But the Russian initiative failed to bring cheers among Syrian rebels, who dismissed it as a manoeuvre to escape punishment.
The main opposition bloc - Syrian National Coalition - said the proposal "aims to procrastinate and will lead to more death and destruction of the Syrian people."
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