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A possible diplomatic resolution to the issue of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles appears to have become mired in political debate, with Russia at odds with France and its allies over a U.N. resolution that calls on Syria to give up the weapons or face "exremely serious" consequences.
The developments comes as President Barack Obama -- who is set to speak in a nationally-televised address Tuesday at 9 p.m. -- agreed to U.N. talks over a Russian proposal that would see Syria's chemical weapons stockpile destroyed, as the White House seemingly pivoted away from military strikes.
France has been backed by the United Kingdom and the United States in proposing the statement that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said would threaten "extremely serious" consequences if Syria fails to hand over its banned weapons. The U.S. accuses the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of using chemical weapons in an attack last month that left more than 1,400 people dead, including over 400 children.
France said the U.N. Security Council resolution that it planned to submit demands that Damascus comply with demands to destroy or dismantle its chemical weapons program. Russia, the main backer of Assad and his government, opposed the French-drafted resolution and is expected to propose a weaker Security Council statement, which would be largely symbolic, on the chemical arms crisis. Russia, which wields veto-power in the Security Council, has expressed doubt that the Assad regime carried out the attack.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday he hopes the Russian chemical weapons handover plan will be a "good step toward a peaceful solution" for Syrian conflict. However, Putin told reporters that the plan "can work, only in the event that we hear that the American side and those who support the U.S.A, in this sense, reject the use of force."
In a day that saw a flurry of diplomatic action, Assad's government appeared to accept the Russian plan, under which Assad's stockpile of chemical weapons would be placed under international control.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said Syria wanted to join the international convention outlawing the use of chemical weapons and was ready to provide information about weapon stocks.
Obama, meanwhile, is still expected to make the case for limited missile strikes. However, White House aides told congressional leaders Tuesday that diplomacy is now the administration's primary goal and that Obama has spoken separately with French President Francois Hollande and the British Prime Minister David Cameron about the Russian proposal.
Obama will also be sending Secretary of State John Kerry to Switzerland this week to discuss a possible deal on Syria's chemical weapons with Russia's foreign minister, a State Department official told The Associated Press.
The president also spent more than two hours on Capitol Hill in closed-door sessions to lay out his rationale for seeking authorization for a military strike against Syria. Lawmakers emerged from the talks saying Obama was urging a pause to congressional action in order to let diplomatic efforts work at the United Nations.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said Obama told Republicans he was "essentially" seeking a delay to contentious looming use-of-force votes in Congress.
"He still wants approval for a strike, and I think myself and members of Congress are not ready to provide that approval," Hoeven told AFP.
An emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on Syria that was set for Tuesday afternoon was canceled after Russia withdrew its request for what was to be a closed-door meeting.
Syria's Foreign Minister earlier announced that Damascus had agreed to the Russian proposal because it would "remove the grounds for American aggression," according to an Interfax report.
"We held a very fruitful round of talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday, and he proposed an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And in the evening we agreed to the Russian initiative," Walid al-Moualem was quoted as telling the speaker of Russia's lower house parliament house in Moscow.
On Monday, Obama said that any proposed strike against Syria would "absolutely" be put on hold if Syria agreed to turn over chemical weapons.
A spokesman from the Iranian Foreign Ministry expressed support for the Russian-brokered proposal. Iran is one of Syria's most stalwart allies and has been supporting the Assad regime throughout the civil war.
In an interview with journalist Charlie Rose that appeared on PBS Monday, Assad criticized Obama’s position that the world had drawn a “red line” on the use of chemical weapons, saying "we have our own red line, like for our sovereignty and our independence." Assad also warned that the U.S. should "expect everything" in response to a potential military strike.
Al Jazeera and wire services
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