Obama: Diplomacy in Syria deserves more time

More than a week since announcing his decision that the United States should -- with the approval of Congress -- launch a military strike against Syrian President Bashar Assad for his alleged use of chemical weapons, President Obama on Tuesday night told the American public that the threat of a military strike should stay on the table while the U.S. and its allies take more time to pursue a diplomatic resolution with Assad.

"Sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough," Mr. Obama said in a televised address from the East Room of the White House. "Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria."

Mr. Obama said that, given Syria's recent offer to give up its chemical weapons, he's asked the leaders of Congress to postpone their vote on the use of force. The administration will work with its allies in the United Nations, he said, to put forward a resolution requiring Assad to give up the weapons. The international community will also give U.N. inspectors an opportunity to report their findings on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

In the meantime, Mr. Obama said, he's ordered the U.S. military to "be in a position to respond" in case diplomatic efforts fail.

"For nearly seven decades the United States has been the anchor of global security," he said. "This has meant more than forging international agreements, it has meant enforcing them."

Acknowledging the skepticism and concern among the public over the prospect of a military strike, the president explained why intervening in Syria is in the nation's interest. Mr. Obama asserted, "We know the Assad regime was responsible" for an apparent chemical weapons attack on August 21 that killed more than 1,000 people outside of Dasmascus, in what Mr. Obama called "a violation of the laws of war."

"If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons," the president said. "Over time our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield."

Chemical weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists or threaten American allies neighboring Syria, he said. A failure to act, he added, could weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction, potentially emboldening Iran to continue developing its nuclear weapons capabilities.

"This is not a world we should accept," Mr. Obama said. "This is what's at stake."

The president also addressed the fast-moving diplomatic developments in Syria. As recently as Sunday, in an interview with Charlie Rose, Assad refused to even acknowledge the existence of his chemical weapons stockpile. By Tuesday, however, Syrian officials said they were interested in accepting a Russian proposal to avert a U.S. strike by relinquishing its chemical weapons to the international community and signing the Chemical Weapons Convention.

"Over the last few days we've seen some encouraging signs," Mr. Obama said, noting that they followed his "constructive talks" with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit last week.

"It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed," he said. However, he added, it "has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force."

The president's prime-time address followed weeks of intense engagement with Congress over a possible military strike. On Tuesday, Mr. Obama went to Capitol Hill to meet separately with the Senate Democratic Caucus and the Senate Republican Conference, spending more than an hour with each group.

In that meeting, according a senior administration official, the president told lawmakers his administration would work with Congress to craft language for the authorizing resolution that would strengthen the diplomatic efforts underway. The president also told senators Tuesday that he was pleased with the seriousness of the public debate that has taken place since he announced he would seek congressional approval for a military strike.