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White House to work with U.N. on Russian proposal for Syria

Updated at 12:55 p.m. ET

After speaking separately with French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron Tuesday morning, President Obama has agreed to work with the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council to seriously consider a Russian proposal for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons and related materials to the international community.

On Tuesday, Syria' foreign minister reiterated his nation's support for the Russian proposal, which would have Syria relinquish its chemical weapons in order to avoid a U.S. military strike. Russia's foreign ministry said Tuesday it opposed the U.N. resolution being drafted by France but that it will draft its own U.N. declaration supporting an initiative to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control.

President Obama on Monday called the nascent deal a "potentially positive deal" that would resolve his concerns over Syrian President Bashar Assad's alleged use of the weapons stockpile. He and his administration, however, maintain that the Syrian government is now open to handing its chemical weapons over to the international community only because of the military threat it faces from the United States -- a military threat that must remain credible.

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"Nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of hanging," Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday at a House Armed Services Committee hearing.

"It is the credible threat of force that has been on the table these last two weeks that has for the first time brought the regime to even acknowledge that they have a chemical weapons arsenal," Kerry continued, "and it's been our determination to hold Assad accountable that has motivated others to even talk about real and credible international action."

Administration officials have intensely lobbied Congress for its approval of a military strike. Since August 23, according to a White House official, the administration has had discussions with at least 93 Senators and more than 350 House members on the United States' response to the alleged chemical weapons use.

On Tuesday, Mr. Obama is attending meetings of the Senate Democratic Caucus and the Senate Republican Conference. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough is speak at a House Democratic Caucus meeting, while Vice President Joe Biden will host separately a group of House Republicans and a group of House Democrats at the White House.

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Along with Kerry, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey also testified before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Kerry, Hagel, Mr. Obama's national security adviser Susan Rice and other senior senior administration officials will hold a briefing for all members of the Senate.

In spite of their 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.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Tuesday that he still supports the Mr. Obama's Syria proposal. While he said that a diplomatic resolution would be preferable to military action, Boehner said he remains skeptical of the Russian plan.

Some lawmakers have already begun drafting at least one alternative resolution focusing on a diplomatic solution. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said on the Senate floor Tuesday that she is working on an amendment to the resolution authorizing military force that would take into account the Russian proposal.

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