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September 10th, 2013
10:02 AM ET

Obama Considers Option Where Syrians Turn Over All Chemical Weapons

As President Obama prepares to address the nation Tuesday night, it had seemed a military strike was the only option on the table for the U.S. to stand against the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Now what had sounded like a misguided comment that Secretary of State John Kerry made at a news conference, may have turned into a viable alternative diplomatic option.

President Obama told CNN's Wolf Blitzer Monday, "If we can accomplish this limited goal without taking military action that would be my preference."

Kerry proclaimed, "He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn't about to do it and it can't be done obviously."

While a U.S.  official quickly chalked up Kerry's statement as "a rhetorical argument" Russia saw a real game plan in what some considered a gaffe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, "We're calling on the Syrian authorities to not only agree on putting chemical weapons storage under international control, but also for its further destruction."

Syria responded just an hour later, their foreign minister Walid Moallem saying, "I declare that the Syrian Arab Republic welcomes Russia's initiative."

On Tuesday morning, the minister added his country had agreed to the Russian proposal after what Interfax quoted him as calling a "very fruitful round of talks" with Russia's Lavrov a day earlier.

International relations expert Aaron David Miller outlines the details and skepticism many feel.

"You'd have to have a cease-fire. You'd have to have a prolonged period where UN weapons inspectors would come in and it seems to me almost unimaginable."

For now, the Senate has delayed their vote from Wednesday on Syria to consider this new Russian proposal.

President Obama is scheduled to speak to the nation at 9 p.m ET Tuesday night. CNN will carry that speech live.

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September 9th, 2013
06:42 AM ET

Congress Heads Back to Washington

Members of the House and Senate will return to Capitol Hill Monday for the first time since a purported chemical weapons attack in Syria.

CNN's Katie Murray reports.

The debate on a resolution giving President Obama the go-ahead to take military action in Syria is expected to top the agenda.

Though it's far from certain how events will unfold.

What does seem clear is the uphill battle the President faces to convince a divided Congress.

Though for once, the divide is not down party lines.

Democratic Representative Jim McGovern told CNN's Candy Crowley Sunday, Obama should withdraw his request for authorization.

The lawmaker said, "We're being told that there's two choices. Do nothing or bomb Syria. Clearly there have to be some other choices in between. We ought to explore them."

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has already passed a rewritten authorization measure, and the Senate could vote on it as early as Thursday or Friday.

The timeline for activity in the house is more vague, but GOP leaders say they will wait for the Senate to approve the measures first.

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, supports Obama's call for military action in Syria, but says the administration has failed to make its case to Congress and the American people.

On CBS's "Face the Nation, " Rep. Rogers said Sunday:

"It is a confusing mess up to this point, and that has been, I think, their biggest challenge on what is an incredibly important issue, and this cannot be about Barack Obama.  It has to be what is in the best interest of the United States of America."

President Obama hasn't said whether he would proceed with a strike should Congress vote against his resolution though White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough said the President has the final say.

"The President ultimately is going to make this decision in consultation with Congress on our timeline, as best suits our interests."

President Obama  will speak to CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room" Monday at 6 p.m. ET.

The commander in chief is expected to address the nation on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. ET.

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September 6th, 2013
09:35 AM ET

At G20, Pres. Obama Fights Amid Tension For Action In Syria

President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin's relationship is still chilly as they go into day two of the G20 summit. CNN's Brianna Keilar reports.

President Obama's first one-on-one interaction with Putin lasts 17 seconds, Keilar says.

While they are all smiles, there is an evident chill in the air as tensions deepen between the two nations over Syria, gay rights and NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

When President Obama is asked if there's been any progress in his push for a U.S. led strike against Syria, he responds, "We were talking about the economy this afternoon."

So far, Putin hasn't commented on Syria publicly but his press secretary tows the Russian line saying, "We all need a convincing and legitimate evidence of proof."

Though Syria is the proverbial elephant in the room, it's not even on the official agenda for the economics-driven summit.  That leaves all discussion on foreign policy to be in the margins and behind closed doors.

Still, Obama says, "I think our joint recognition that the use of chemical weapons in Syria is not only a tragedy, but also a violation of international law that must be addressed."

Aides to the President say behind the scenes, Obama is out to convince skeptical foreign leaders that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is responsible for the chemical weapons attack in Damasacus.

At home, while many members of Congress are undecided, quite a few lawmakers have already said they plan to vote against supporting military action in Syria.

Things got heated at Senator John McCain's town hall in Phoenix. McCain supports action in Syria but some of his constituents voiced their opinions against action.

The same is true for Democratic head of Senate Intelligence Committee Dianne Feinstein who says her followers who are against action in Syria have been calling her every day with "overwhelmingly negative" responses.

SEE CNN's ATHENA JONES' FULL REPORT:

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September 5th, 2013
09:16 AM ET

Obama-Putin Rift On Eve of G-20

Thursday marks the beginning of the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, but with tension between President Obama and President Putin  mounting on Syria, gay rights and NSA leaker Edward Snowden, some say Obama is walking into the lion's den.

President Obama, commenting on the relationship, has said, "We've kinda hit a wall in terms of additional progress," CNN's Brianna Keilar reports.

President Obama defended his position to launch strikes in Syria Wednesday in Sweden saying "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line when governmnets representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent."

Putin remains vehemently opposed to a military response against the Assad regime, casting doubt over the evidence the U.S. government says it has on chemical weapons use in the country.

Putin saying, "If we have objective, precise data of who is responsible for these crimes, then we'll react.

This is the highest tensions have been between the two world powers since the cold war.

Former ambassador and expert on international peace James F. Collins says, "We will have a very bad patch if there is a military attack on Syria and I think we can expect some pretty frosty times."

Russia and Syria have been strong allies for decades. Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Bill Richardson says, "Russia is very close to Syria. They provide and buy weapons from each other, they kind of are a client state."

Though Russia is not alone in its refusal to endorse military action, Britain and Germany are also no's.

Syria is just one of the issues brining tension between the countries . President Obama canceled his private meeting with Putin several weeks ago after the Russian leader's refusal to extradite NSA leaker Edward Snowden.

While in St. Petersburg, Obama also plans to meet with gay rights activists on Putin's turf as outrage spreads over Russia's new law banning any promotion of gay relationships to minors.

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September 4th, 2013
09:31 AM ET

Here's The Plan For Action In Syria

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee drafts a bipartisan agreement authorizing the use of force in Syria they'll take up for debate on Wednesday. CNN's Jim Scuitto reports.

In trying to appease both war hawks and doves, the bill attempts to limit the scope and length of attacks but also intends to strategically help to strengthen the Syrian opposition.

Here's what the authorization states:

– Strikes against Syria limited to 60 days, option for further 30 days

– Bans troops on the ground, permits rescue mission if needed

Secretaries Kerry and Hagel and General Dempsey, veterans who understand the cost of war, tell Senators Tuesday that limited military action is right and necessary.

Secretary of State John Kerry says:

"Are you going to be comfortable if Assad, as a result of the United States not doing anything, then gasses his people yet again and they - and the world says, 'Why didn't the United States act?'

Senator John McCain, a long supporter of more vigorous U.S. involvement in Syria,  criticizes the President's decision to delay military action until after congressional approval.

"When you tell the enemy you're going to attack them, I'm not to take any time on this, you're going to attack them, they're obviously going to disperse and try to make it harder."

However, President Obama may be making ground with lawmakers. Speaker of the House John Boehner gives his support for military action Tuesday.

Wednesday, the case for military action in Syria moves to the House where Secretaries Kerry and Hagel and General Dempsey can expect tougher questioning than they did in a session Tuesday.

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September 3rd, 2013
09:19 AM ET

White House "Floods the Zone" Trying to Build Support For Action In Syria

The United Nations says the number of refugees from the escalating crisis in Syria has reached 2 million.

Later Tuesday, the Obama administration will send two of its heaviest hitters to Capitol Hill to rally for action abroad,  CNN's Brianna Keilar reports.

Secretary of State John Kerry and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a closed door session.

The White House says they might have achieved a "persuasion breakthrough" with two crucial lawmakers – Sen. John McCain and Sen. Lindsey Graham.

McCain says "We want to work to make that resolution something that the majority of both Houses can support," but adds "we still have significant concerns."

Graham stresses, "We don't want endless war."

Congress wants a limited strike and no boots on the ground.

The White House continues to push with their persuasion campaign and President Obama will meet with Speaker John Boehner, Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and twelve other key lawmakers today.

And some of these officials may soon be lobbied from a much different direction.

Russia, a friend of the Syrian government, says it will send some of its representatives to meet with members of Congress.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has questioned if chemical weapons were used at all saying, there's "nothing concrete, no names and no proof."

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September 2nd, 2013
10:08 AM ET

President Obama Makes His Case To Congress

As President Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials present the case for military action in Syria to Congress, we're learning more about the timeline behind the decision.

CNN's Brianna Keilar reports.

Aides to the Commander-in-Chief say President Obama didn't tell anyone about his plan to ask Congress for permission to proceed with military strikes in Syria until Friday at 6pm, when he took a 45-minute walk with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.

Shortly after, at 7 p.m, the President tells his National Security staff of the decision, sparking a heated debate.

Saturday morning, he calls his top team to the Situation Room to finalize the plan, then calls Congressional leaders from the Oval Office and heads to make the announcement to the public.

Speaking from the Rose Garden,the President  says "All of us should be accountable as we move forward and that can only be accomplished with a vote."

Secretary of State Kerry also recently revealed new evidence to back claims the Assad regime killed hundreds of his people with nerve gas.

"Blood and hair samples that have come to us has tested positive for signatures of Sarin," Kerry said.

Despite this evidence, CNN's Chief Congressional Correspondent  Dana Bash says the President has his work cut out for him as support for military action abroad is far from guaranteed.

Bash reports that lawmakers emerged from a classified briefing Sunday intended to convince them to authorize force in Syria seemingly unconvinced, despite reports the administration appealed to their sense of patriotism and morality.

Texas Rep. Michael Burgess said, "The mood in the district I represent is, do not do this. And I honestly did not hear anything that told me I ought to have a different position."

The resistance to action cuts across the aisle.

Connecticut Democrat Jim Hines adds, "I'm still very skeptical about the President's proposal. It's not clear to me that we know what the results of this attack would be, meaning it would be effective."

Concern also lingers over authorizing a bill many lawmakers currently find too broad for the limited action that has been publicized.

Republican Senator Roy Blunt, Missouri, says  "The biggest single concern among members may very well have been a very broad request for authority with a supposedly very narrow intent to do anything."

The administration continues to meet with key figures and later Monday,  Senators' John McCain and Lindsey Graham are expected to go to the White House to meet with the President.

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August 29th, 2013
06:33 AM ET

President Obama: "There Must Be Consequences in Syria"

The White House could release evidence the Syrian government used chemical weapons on its own people as early as Thursday, CNN's Barbara Starr reports.

In an interview with PBS Newshour, the President left no doubt who the U.S. believes ordered the chemical weapons attacks, saying:

"We want the Assad regime to understand that by using chemical weapons on a large scale against your own people – against women, against infants, against children, that you are not only breaking international norms and standards of decency, but you're also creating a situation where U.S. national interests are affected, and that needs to stop."

Among the evidence proving the Syrian regime's hand behind chemical weapons use: intercepts of Syrian commanders discussing the movement of chemical weapons to the area of the attack, provided by Israeli intelligence.

The U.S.'s potential next step, launching cruise missile strikes, has put the U.S. at direct odds with Russia.

"We do not believe the Syrian regime should be able to hide behind the fact that the Russians continue to block action on Syria at the U.N., State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf tells the press.

"But behind the scenes officials are signalling the U.S. may not wait for the U.N. to act," Starr says.

"The U.S. military is strengthening its position in the Eastern Mediterrrean with the addition of two more submarines."

The Syrian regime is also getting prepared.

Bashar al-Jaafari, Syria's ambassador to the UN, says "We are in a state of war right now preparing ourselves for the worst     scenario."

But the rhetoric from the Syrian government has also become more subdued now.

"You can tell that the regime is getting more and more nervous," reports CNN's Frederik Pleitgen.

Pleitgen says many Syrians are also getting fearful and trying to leave the country now. 

“People seem unsure what the future will bring with the American air strikes looming.”

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August 28th, 2013
06:25 AM ET

U.S., Russia Trade Barbs Over Syria

A U.S. response to Syria is imminent after clear word from the Obama Administration insisting the Assad regime is to blame for a deadly chemical weapons attack near Damsacus, which rebels say left some 1300 people dead.

Plans are apparently in the works for a U.S. response, but the White House says nothing has yet been decided.

CNN has learned the National Security Council met Tuesday night at the White House, to discuss Syria. The president did not take part.

Meanwhile, Russia is warning the U.S. against an attack.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted Tuesday: "The West handles the Islamic world the way a monkey handles a grenade."

“There's no love affair between Russian president Vladimir Putin and Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, but their countries have been in a tight embrace since Soviet times,” reports CNN’s Jill Dougherty.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem has said, “The Russian-Syrian relationship is a historical relationship that goes back decades back and is still continuing in the same momentum till this day.”

From military ties to those of blood and religion, the Russians and Syrians have a clear vested interest in one other.

“Syria has been buying its military weapons from Russia since Assad's father, Hafez al-Assad, ruled the country and Moscow is still fulfilling some of those Soviet-era contracts,” Dougherty reports.

Also, Russia's naval facility in Syria's port of Tartus is Moscow's only remaining Mediterranean repair spot for its ships.

According to Russian media, at least 25,000 Russian women are married to Syrian men.

And the largest Christian denomination in both Syria and Russia is the Orthodox Church. Moscow fears that if Islamist rebels win, they will be decimated.

“But the deepest reason the Kremlin sticks with Assad is Russia's anger over any unilateral military action or regime change by the West,” Dougherty explains.

“It started with NATO's 1999 air campaign against Russia's ally, Serbia.”

Matters worsened when the west launched airstrikes against Libya's Muammar Gadhafi, in 2011.

Andrew Kuchins of the Center for Strategic and International Studies says, “Mr. Putin basically came to the conclusion that never again, this will never happen again. That they will stick by Mr. Assad and Syria. Not because they particularly like Mr. Assad but because they see him as the legitimate president, or the legitimate leader of Syria.”

Dougherty says, “Russia now claims there's little difference between President Obama and President George W. Bush. And they predict that if Assad falls what comes after him could be even worse.”

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Filed under: Russia • Syria • White House • World
August 27th, 2013
06:11 AM ET

U.S. Weighing Options Against Syria

The word on Syria is that American firepower is nearby, and ready to act if it is called upon.

A senior administration official tells CNN the U.S. is working with its European allies to build a consensus on what to do next about Syria.

Within days, President Obama's national security team will present him with its final, detailed options in response to allegations that the Assad regime used chemical weapons on its own people, which Secretary of State John Kerry called  "a moral obscenity."

The White House is already making the case for taking action against Syria.

According to Secretary Kerry, "President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world’s most vulnerable people."

Hence, “if the President gives the order, a senior defense official says four Navy destroyers in the Mediterranean Sea could execute a mission within hours. U.S. and British submarines are also likely nearby, all armed with cruise missiles,” reports CNN’s Chris Lawrence.

“The options are not designed to overthrow Assad's government, but send a message and deter any further use of chemical weapons, President Obama's ‘red line.’”

President Obama is now under pressure to keep his word and support his ultimatum. "Any time you throw down the diplomatic gauntlet, your words have repercussions,” Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haas says.

While the U.S. is consulting with allies for a plan of action, as Lawrence reports, officials say it may not need a formal coalition to execute the response.

Follow along at CNN.com for developments.

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Filed under: Chemical Weapons • Syria
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