OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Obama, Senate weigh Syria diplomacy

Some tensions between Russia and the United States quickly emerged over the plan.

Putin said on Russian television Tuesday that there would be no deal unless the United States and its allies “pledge to renounce the use of force" in Syria.

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Secretary of State John Kerry — who may have set off the whole diplomatic chain of events with an off-hand remark about Syria giving up its chemical weapons — said Syria and Russia had to quickly prove they were serious.

“This cannot be a game, and that we have made very, very clear to the Russians,” Kerry said at a State Department Google Hangout.

The diplomatic process will pick up again Thursday, when Kerry is set to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva.

Senators agree with ‘pause’ after Obama meeting: Senators from both parties left their meetings with President Obama on Tuesday ready to embrace the diplomatic route in Syria — at least, for a short period of time.

Obama told Democrats that he supported delaying a vote on military action in order to pursue a diplomatic solution.

“His main message is we need to allow time for diplomatic situation to play itself out but at the same time we need to keep the threat of military force credible because that’s how we got here in the first place,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide, who explained that Obama argued the threat of force had spurred Russia to enter negotiations.

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who helped draft the Senate Foreign Relations resolution on Syria, said there was no problem pressing “pause” on the process while keeping the threat of military action on the table.

“My thoughts are we hit the pause button until we see whether there’s any credibility to this offer,” Corker said.

Defense hawks who have long called for military action said they were willing to see where the diplomatic route leads, but that they weren’t willing to give Syria much time.

“I’m very skeptical whether the Russians are actually serious or not, but it’s worth pursuing,” said McCain. “We’d call for nearly immediate actions to be taken to secure those chemical weapons. It could be done in a matter of days.”

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said the new resolution could be even more effective because it would include the threat of military action in order to win the diplomatic gestures.

“It’s because of the threat of strikes by the president, because of the possibility that Congress would authorize it, that there’s movement at the U.N.,” said Levin. 

Lawmakers react on Syria: The fast-moving Syria story — with new developments almost every hour — was the talk around the Capitol Tuesday as senators met with President Obama. Here’s a sampling of what they said after their lunch with the president:

Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.): "This is two-fer — a way to both keep the pressure on Syria and on Russia and to get rid of the chemical weapons."

Armed Services ranking member Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.): “It gets [Obama] off the hook of painting himself in the corner he did, drawing the red line that he did and then not acting.”

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.): “I think we’re going to wait to see how it plays out for the next few days. There’s a universal view in the caucus and the country it would be a lot better to get this done by international consensus and action than unilateral action.”

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.): “The way that it seems to have transpired is almost accidental, but it is what it is.”

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), on writing a new resolution: “It took us about four or five hours [the first Syria resolution]. It’s not like it’s rocket science in writing these things. I think we can produce one in ample time.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.): “The president felt like it’s too early to tell if this is real, but we’re not going to wait a long time to find out.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.): “It’s part of the riddle but it doesn’t fix the problem: Assad still remains, it’s still a civil war going on, there’s still civilians getting killed by conventional warfare.”

Hagel hopeful Russia-Syria deal is ‘real’: Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that he hopes Russian-led plans to end the U.S. military standoff with Syria could be a "real solution" that brings America back from the brink of war.

"All of us are hopeful that this option could be a real solution to this crisis," he told committee members during the panel's hearing on the growing conflict in Syria.

However, Hagel made clear that Russia and Syria must be willing to follow through with the plan before U.S. military planners would be willing to take intervention off the table.

"We must be clear-eyed and ensure it is not a stalling tactic by Syria and its Russian patrons," Hagel told House members.

The Armed Services hearing, which included Hagel, Kerry and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey, was drowned out in the flurry of news on Tuesday, a stark contrast from their testimony last week.

Still, the senior Obama administration officials continued to make their case for a military strike while embracing the possibility that the diplomatic route could lead to a solution to rid Syria of chemical weapons.


In Case You Missed It:

— Kerry to meet with Russian counterpart Thursday

— Coons: White House not in ‘rush to war’

— Assad’s forces renew offensive in Damascus

— Markey off fence; opposes Syria strikes

— Boehner skeptical of Russia’s plan


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