President Barack Obama told the nation on Tuesday night that he will personally continue Syrian crisis negotiations that were arranged by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He’s also sending Secretary of State John Kerry to talk with Putin’s deputy on Thursday, and is delaying congressional debates over his request for authorization to attack Syria.
This new focus on diplomacy is a stunning retreat from Obama’s much-touted and very unpopular promise to punish Syria for an August nerve gas attack on rebel-held neighborhoods.
It is also a possibly decisive retreat from the president’s aggressive effort to weaken Syria’s government until Islamic radicals — including al-Qaeda forces — seize the capital. In recent weeks, the rebel groups had repeatedly urged Obama to launch a bombing campaign.
Obama made his new prime-time pitch to the voters — and especially to his war-averse progressive base — even though the diplomatic effort is already hitting critical roadblocks.
Obama told the nation Tuesday he wanted to have the United Nations effectively disarm Syria of its chemical weapons.
But earlier on Tuesday, Putin’s foreign minister told France’s foreign minister that Russia would object to any role for the United Nations. Instead, Russian wants to play the leading role in verifying Syria’s claimed chemical-weapon disarmament.
Russia is Syria’s leading ally, and has strongly opposed Obama’s efforts to remove Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Asaad. Obama’s apparent course could also give Putin room to cause the president further embarrassment by, for example, threatening to derail the Syria negotiations unless Obama offers new concessions, such as cutbacks in U.S. missile defenses.
Assad is also aided by Iran’s soldiers and weapons.