Congress vote delayed as Russian plan for Syrian chemical weapons gains wide support

After its deft diplomatic manoeuvre that has already coaxed the U.S. to delay its decision on attacking Syria, Russia — the architect of a widely supported proposal to disarm Syria of chemical weapons — has said it would soon submit an action plan that would result in an internationally supervised destruction of the Syrian arsenal of poison gas.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who had on Monday quickly seized a narrow diplomatic opening provided by his U.S. counterpart John Kerry for averting military strikes, has said Moscow and Damascus were working jointly to resolve the chemical weapons row.

“The plan developed together with the Syrian side will be submitted to all interested parties, including the United States.”

As Russia announced its proposal, which was swiftly reciprocated by Damascus, the U.S. Senate decided that it would delay voting — earlier scheduled on Wednesday — on endorsing President Barack Obama’s decision to attack Syria. In an interview with ABC television, the President confirmed that the pause button had indeed been pressed in Washington’s drive.

“I don’t anticipate that you would see a succession of votes this week or anytime in the immediate future,” said Mr. Obama. He added: “So I think there will be time during the course of the debates here in the United States for the international community, the Russians and the Syrians to work with us and say is there a way to resolve this.”

In another interview — part of serial television appearances — Mr. Obama acknowledged that a “potentially a significant breakthrough” was possible. He pointed out that the establishment of international control over Syria’s chemical weapons would, possibly, contribute to the avoidance of military action, but would not resolve the underlying conflict.

Analysts point out that the Russian proposal could have presented Mr. Obama with an exit strategy to wriggle out of the messy situation in Syria. By calling off a strike in the end, the Obama administration would align with the growing anti-war sentiment in the country. A poll by Reuters and AP news agencies, conducted between September 5-9 has revealed that 63 per cent of Americans oppose intervention — the count up from 53 per cent as shown by a survey that ended on August 30.

Russia’s initiative has generated vociferous support across the globe from countries, including India and China. On Tuesday, India called any movement towards elimination of the chemical weapons as a “positive development”, while China welcomed the proposal.

Crucially, Iran, a top ally of Syria, also endorsed Moscow’s call for the eradication of chemical stockpiles, to avert military action. However, Iran’s newly appointed Foreign Ministry spokesperson Marzieh Afkham pointed out that Tehran “speaks in favour of clearing the region of the weapons of mass destruction” — a reference to Israel. Iran also made it plain that any effort to eliminate Syrian weapons “should also embrace the chemical weapons at the disposal of Syrian insurgents”.

In Moscow, visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian stressed at a press conference Iran and Russia “ have strong evidence that terrorist organisations deployed chemical weapons” in Syria.

Observers say while Syria has accepted to back the Russian proposal, it is likely to seek fresh security guarantees from Moscow, to compensate for its loss of its chemical weapons, which it had apparently maintained to deter a nuclear armed Israel. On Tuesday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem told Interfax news agency that Damascus had agreed to Moscow’s proposal to “pull the rug from under the feet of American aggression”.