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Vote to authorize Syria strike on hold, maybe for good

Amid fast-moving negotiations over Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Tuesday there's no guarantee the Senate will vote on a resolution to authorize military force against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.

"I'm not guaranteeing anything," Reid told reporters after President Obama met with the Senate Democratic Caucus during their weekly policy luncheon on Capitol Hill. Immediately following that meeting, Mr. Obama met with the Senate Republican Conference.

Any vote on a Syrian resolution will be "driven by developments taking place, not by some artificial timeline," Reid said. "The last 24 hours has had some remarkable changes in what people are talking about. Let's see what else happens."

That said, he added, "We have to make sure the credible threat of military action remains."

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters the president said he wants "to check out the seriousness of the Syrian and the Russian willingness to get rid of those chemical weapons in Syria."

"He wants time to check it out," Levin said, according to Reuters.

About the same time Reid and Levin were talking to the press, Syria's foreign minister said in an interview with Lebanon-based Al-Maydeen TV that Syria is ready to sign the international Chemical Weapons Convention and open its chemical weapons storage sites. Earlier Tuesday, Mr. Obama spoke with French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron about a potential diplomatic deal that would avert a U.S. military strike if Syria gave up its chemical weapons stockpile.

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Still, members of the administration on Tuesday continued to call on Congress to authorize military action, alleging that Assad used his chemical weapons against his own people and must be deterred from doing so again. Echoing the administration's argument, Reid said Tuesday that a diplomatic resolution in Syria now seems possible only because "the president of the United States has made it very clear we will act if we must."

The administration has been in talks with members of Congress for weeks over the issue of a potential military strike, and on Tuesday night, Mr. Obama will deliver a televised address to the nation about the issue.

In spite of the administration's continued engagement with Congress, legislators have shown little interest in approving military action. Notably, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., broke from congressional leadership on Tuesday and announced his opposition to a resolution authorizing a military strike.

Some lawmakers have already drafted one alternative resolution focusing on a diplomatic solution.

A separate group of senators came together this week to work on amending the current resolution on the table, authorizing the use of force, to take into account Syria's offer to hand over its chemical weapons. The senators are trying to maintain the threat of military action while setting up a timeline and verification process for Assad to hand over the weapons to the international community. The lawmakers involved include Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz.; Lindsey Graham R-S.C.; Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.; Chris Coons, D-Del.; Bob Casey, D-Pa.; and Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Menendez, D-N.J. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, is likely being consulted as well.

"We're doing everything in coordination with the White House," Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., told CBS News.

Reid, who called Assad a "demon" and a "madman," said he would be "totally satisfied" if a diplomatic agreement could be reached. That said, he noted that Syria has an "extremely, extremely low level of credibility" and would have to prove their offer to give up the weapons is legitimate.

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