(Photo: Evan Vucci, AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - President Obama told the nation Tuesday he is exploring a Russian diplomatic plan to end a chemical weapons dispute in Syria, but reserves the right to take military action if necessary.
During his nationally televised speech from the White House, Obama said:
-- He wanted to talk to the country about why Syria "matters" and where we go from here;
-- He resisted military action in Syria until that nation used chemical weapons on anti-government rebels, and killed children in the progress; the president cited evidence that Bashar Assad's government was behind the attack;
-- Argued that use of these banned weapons increase the possibility of other chemical attacks in other parts of the world, perhaps even the United States;
-- A lack of action would erode prohibitions on other weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons; he cited a threat from Iran;
-- Congress should authorize any attack because it will unite more Americans;
-- He understands Americans are tired of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but said any action in Syria would be limited and targeted on its chemical weapons programs.
-- Syria does not have the ability to retaliate against the United States.
Obama's speech capped a flurry of diplomatic activity, as American, British, and French officials spoke with Russian counterparts about their idea to have Syria turn over their chemical weapons to international control for dismantling.
So far, they are at odds on the details.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he would only support a Syrian turnover if the Obama administration renounced the possible of use of force against Bashar Assad's government.
Obama declined to do that. In meetings with U.S. senators on Tuesday, and during his prime time speech, Obama said it's the potential for force that pressured Syria into negotiations about releasing its chemical weapons stockpile.
Officials said Secretary of State John Kerry would fly to Geneva, Switzerland, for a Thursday negotiation session with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Syria announced Tuesday it would accept Russia's offer, and said it is willing to join a global ban on chemical weapons.
Members of Congress, divided over a resolution authorizing military action against Syria, began exploring alternatives in light of the new diplomatic moves. The force resolution faces uphill battles in both the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-run House.
Earlier on Tuesday, Obama attended separate meetings with Senate Democrats and Republicans in which he previewed his speech.
A bipartisan group of senators -- some of whom support intervention -- are working on an alternative that would require Syria to allow a United Nations team to remove chemical weapons within a certain time period, perhaps 45 to 60 days. If Syria doesn't comply, Obama would have the authority to launch military strikes.
Obama also spoke amid rising opposition in the public and in Congress to idea of a military strike against Syria.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday finds that nearly 60% of Americans want their member of Congress to oppose the use of military force in Syria.