As negotiations continue over a UN resolution, Russia is reported to have shown the US its plan for placing Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal under international control.
The Interfax news agency cited a Russian source as saying that the Obama administration has been shown the plans and that both nations will discuss it further on Thursday.
Syria has accepted a Russian proposal to surrender its chemical weapons in order to win a possible reprieve from punitive US military strikes.
The plan for Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons, initiated by Russia, appeared to ease the crisis over looming western strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Damascus.
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday used a televised address to the American nation to indicate that the White House was hard at work using diplomatic channels to pursue the plan to give the international community control of Assad’s chemical weapons.
President Obama said he would work with allies as well as Russia and China, both of which have veto powers on the Security Council, to craft a UN resolution. He gave no timetable for how long he would wait for such talks to play out.
Domestic support for a strike is uncertain in the United States, even as President Obama seeks congressional backing for action.
Mr Obama said “encouraging signs” that Assad could relinquish his control of chemical weapons were brought about “in part because of the credible threat of US military action”.
But he said it was “to early to tell” if diplomacy would succeed, and said he had ordered the US military to “maintain its current posture, to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails.”
He said: “Any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments, but this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.
“I have therefore asked congress to postpone a vote to authorise the use of force, while we pursue this path.
“I am sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday and I will continue my discussions with President Putin.
“I have spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies, France and the United Kingdom, and we will work together, in consultation with Russia and China, to put forward a resolution at the United Nations Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.”
Details have emerged of the first draft of a proposed UN resolution. Russia is understood to have objected to the initial draft, which was drawn up by the French.
The draft would demand Syria make a complete declaration of its chemical weapons programme within 15 days, and immediately open all related sites to UN inspectors or face possible punitive measures.
These measures, the draft said, could come under chapter seven of the UN charter, which covers punitive measures ranging from sanctions to military intervention. UN diplomats have said Russia is reluctant to support this draft.
However, the diplomatic process is an opportunity for President Obama to get out of a difficult situation. He was facing a possible defeat over military intervention in Syria, and opposition from a “war-weary” American public.
Referring to a letter he had received from a member of the public, the president said in his address that the US was not “the world’s policeman”.
“Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong,” he said.
“But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.”
Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Syria must be stripped of its chemical weapons and that the international community must make sure those who used weapons of mass destruction pay a price.
Mr Netanyahu said Syria had carried out a “crime against humanity” by killing innocent civilians with chemical weapons and that Syria’s ally Iran, which is at odds with the west over its nuclear programme, was watching to see how the world acted.
“It must be ensured that the Syrian regime is stripped of its chemical weapons, and the world must make sure that whoever uses weapons of mass destruction pays a price for it,” Mr Netanyahu said. “The message that is received in Syria will be received loudly in Iran.”
The crisis in Syria was underlined by the publication of a report by UN human rights investigators, which said the Assad regime and rebel forces had both committed war crimes in recent months.