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Tuesday
Sep102013

White House Taking a 'Hard Look' at Russian Idea; Still Seeking Syria Strikes

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Top White House officials Monday afternoon said the administration is taking a “hard look” at the Russian proposal on Syria’s chemical weapons, but signaled cautious skepticism of the idea as they press ahead with a campaign for congressional authority to launch military strikes.  
 
“It's even more important that we don't take the pressure off and that Congress give the president the authority he's requested,” said deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken.
 
“We would welcome Assad giving up his chemical weapons, doing it in a verifiable manner so that we can account for them and destroy them,” he said. “But unfortunately, the track record to date is -- including recent statements by Assad not even acknowledging that he has chemical weapons -- doesn't give you a lot of confidence.”
 
Aides credited Obama’s threat of U.S. military action with spurring Russia to action and insisted only if that threat continues will any real diplomatic deal be sealed. The White House is holding discussions with Russia and other allies on the new proposal, officials said.
 
White House spokesman Jay Carney said those discussions will not delay military action.
 
“In terms of military action, we're obviously engaged with Congress at this point,” Carney told ABC’s Jonathan Karl. “So while we have these discussions with the Russians and others, we will continue in the effort with Congress.”
 
A parade of Republican and Democratic lawmakers had been seen coming and going from the West Wing Monday for a series of high-level briefings on Syria, as members of Obama’s National Security Council press their case with a skeptical Congress.  
 
The crux of the case, said Blinken, is that “enforcing this prohibition [on chemical weapons’ and this norm is profoundly in the national interest: first and foremost, to deter Assad from using these weapons again and making it more difficult for him to do so; to prevent the threshold against use from dropping lower, lower and lower, to the point where our own soldiers and citizens could well be exposed.”
 
“We also made it very clear to the members of Congress we were engaged with what this is and what this isn't,” he said. “What this is is a limited, tailored, but effective military action to deal with the use of chemical weapons. What it is not is open-ended, it is not boots on the ground, it's not Iraq, it's not Afghanistan, it's not even Libya.”
 
As for Assad’s threat in the CBS interview to retaliate against the U.S. for a strike, Blinken said the administration thinks the likelihood remains slim. “It is our judgment that President Assad and Syria would have very little interest in picking a fight with the United States of America,” he said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio