President Obama on Saturday touted "indications of progress" on U.S. efforts to disarm Syrian President Bashar Assad of chemical weapons and vowed to ensure that Damascus followed through on any agreement.
“As recently as a week ago, the Assad regime would not admit that it possessed chemical weapons. Today, it does. Syria has signaled a willingness to join with 189 other nations, representing 98 percent of humanity, in abiding by an international agreement that prohibits the use of chemical weapons,” Obama said in his weekly address.
Obama’s remarks came as U.S. and Russian negotiators in Geneva continued talks on a proposal that would see Syria hand over its chemical arsenal to international inspectors to avert a threatened American military strike. Syria earlier this week also agreed to sign an international treaty banning the use of chemical weapons.
The president delayed his push for congressional authorization to strike Syria last week after Russia offered to help secure Assad’s chemical arsenal. In an address to the nation on Tuesday, Obama embraced the last-ditch diplomatic effort, saying that he preferred “peaceful solutions.”
Critics of the president warned that the talks could be an effort by Assad’s ally Russian President Vladimir Putin to delay U.S. action.
Obama Saturday said that “Russia has staked its own credibility” on the talks and he warned that negotiations would not be a “stalling tactic.”
“If current discussions produce a serious plan, I’m prepared to move forward with it,” the president said. But he warned that the U.S. would take steps to ensure compliance.
“We are not just going to take Russia and Assad’s word for it,” said Obama. “We need to see concrete actions to demonstrate that Assad is serious about giving up his chemical weapons.”
The president also said he would keep the threat of a U.S. military strike on the table.
“Since this plan emerged only with a credible threat of U.S. military action, we will maintain our military posture in the region to keep the pressure on the Assad regime. And if diplomacy fails, the United States and the international community must remain prepared to act,” he said.
“We have a duty to preserve a world free from the fear of chemical weapons for our children,” Obama said in closing. “But if there is any chance of achieving that goal without resorting to force, then I believe we have a responsibility to pursue that path.”