White House spokesman Jay Carney made no mention of Obamas previous conversations with Putin. He said the reason that Russia had made the proposal is because of the intense pressure being placed on Assad by the United States. He added that the administration would continue building support in Congress for a limited U.S. strike.
We would not be having this conversation . . . if it werent for the fact that there is the credible threat of U.S. military action in response to their use of those weapons, he said.
The twist of events began at a news conference in London, where Kerry said a strike could be avoided if the Assad regime turned over every single bit of its chemical arsenal to international authorities by the end of the week.
By the time the State Department clarified that Kerrys remarks were intended only as rhetoric about a highly improbable scenario, Moscow already had pounced on the opening.
Moscows maneuvering to turn Kerrys ad libs into a potential diplomatic breakthrough only added another obstacle to Obamas task of selling Congress and the public on an unpopular, ill-defined strike.
As of Monday, the Obama administration had provided classified briefings to 185 lawmakers. Others have attended unclassified briefings or one-on-one meetings. The president will meet with Senate Republicans Tuesday at the Capitol before speaking to the nation in a prime-time address.
Obama said he knows he faces an uphill battle in persuading Americans to support the strikes, telling PBS that he does not think he will convince the overwhelming majority of the American people he should take action. Even members of his own family are suspicious of military intervention, he said. But, Obama said, he believes he can make a very strong case to the nation.
In his interviews Monday, Obama made it clear he recognizes that congressional authorization is by no means assured. I wouldnt say Im confident, he told NBC.
Obama declined to say whether he would use force in Syria without congressional approval.
I think its fair to say that I havent decided, he told NBC. I am taking this vote in Congress and what the American people are saying very seriously. I knew by bringing this to Congress that there was a risk that the American people, you know, just could not arrive at a consensus around even a limited strike. Because if you ask somebody, you know, I read polls like everybody else.
Lawmakers, some of whom are opposed to the strikes, hailed the Russian proposal, which could serve as just the lifeline they needed from the dilemma of either supporting the administrations strike plans or siding with constituents whove repeatedly rejected U.S. intervention in Syria.
Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said he saluted any diplomatic effort to resolve this in a verifiable way and do it with dispatch.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, said she would welcome Syria transferring its chemical weapons cache to international monitors for destruction in order to prevent a military strike.
I believe that Russia can be most effective in encouraging the Syrian president to stop any use of chemical weapons and place all his chemical munitions, as well as storage facilities, under United Nations control until they can be destroyed.
Some lawmakers were skeptical.
How would you know how many chemical weapons they turn over? said Rep. Lynn Westmorlend, R-Ga., a member of the House Select Intelligence Committee. This is another ad-lib statement someone gave in a speech. Its just a real cluster right now.
Schofield reported from Berlin, Allam and Kumar from Washington. William Douglas of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report, which was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.