Levin: Threat of U.S. action vital to Russia-Syria deal

"The only way that can happen is if there is a credible risk" to Syria's chemical weapons capabilities if Damascus balks on Moscow's plan to dismantle the country's chemical stockpiles, Levin told reporters on Capitol Hill. 

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"That threat has got to be there . . . for them to move politically," Levin said after said after a lunch meeting between President Obama and Senate Democrats on Tuesday. 

Obama met with Senators from both sides of the aisle on Tuesday, to sell the administration's case for possible military action in Syria and discuss Russia's proposal to end the standoff. 

Moscow floated the proposal Monday, which would have Syrian President Bashar Assad hand over his chemical weapons stockpiles to international control, led by the United Nations. 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov floated the disarmament plan to regime leaders on Monday. 

The plan was a significant break by Moscow from the country's long-standing support for the Assad regime throughout the more than two-year civil war in the country. 

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Tuesday that his country would be willing to open its chemical weapons sites to the United Nations and join Chemical Weapons Convention, as part of Moscow's proposal. 

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told House Armed Services Committee members on Tuesday the Russia plan represented a "real solution" to end the U.S. standoff with Syria. 

"It makes sense to me that as long as you have a realistic possibility of a political settlement, you explore that," Levin said. 

However, Levin noted there would be no way to ensure Russia and Syria follow through on disarmament plans unless Washington keeps military strikes on the table. 

"If the effort fails politically, I think there has to be a response," in the form of military action, according to the Michigan Democrat. 

"That is what my focus has been," Levin added. "To keep the pressure on Russia and Syria to do what they say they are willing to do." 

U.S. forces have been awaiting orders to begin targeted strikes inside Syria, in retaliation for alleged chemical weapons attacks by Assad's forces against anti-government rebels. 

However, Obama opted to delay those strikes, in order to secure congressional authorization for military action in the country. 

Last Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee authorized military action by a vote of 10 to 7. 

But on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) postponed a full Senate vote on the panel's authorization to allow further review of the Russia-Syria plan.

Members of the Senate are working on a new use-of-force resolution that would trigger an armed U.S. response if Syria refuses to relinquish its chemical weapons. 

The group of senators working on a new deal does not yet have legislative text and has yet to determine what if any limits would be placed on military action.

But Levin reiterated any reworking of the resolution would be meaningless without the threat of American military intervention. 

"So long as that threat of force is in the background, it will really help . . . the prospects of a political settlement." 

Levin would not say specifically whether Obama backed the authorization language being propose by the Michigan Democrat and others in the Senate. 

"The President believes there is a number of ideas that should be explored, including that one," Levin said.