Syria will declare its chemical weapons, join convention, says FM (LIVE BLOG)



People protest against a US military intervention in Syria in front of the Cannon House Office Building near the US Capitol as mebers of the US Congress leave an administration briefing on Syria to lawmakers in Washington on September 9, 2013.



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UPDATE: 9/10/13 5:00 PM ET

Obama addresses the nation on Syria

President Obama will talk to the American public about the latest developments in Syria at 9 p.m. EST on Tuesday.

He was originally slated to make a case for military action against the Assad regime in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons in Damascus on Aug. 21.

Tuesday's developments, however, put those plans on hold as Russia put forward a proposal for Assad's regime to place its chemical weapons under international control.

Syria's foreign minister said the country was ready to declare its chemical weapons and sign the chemical weapons convention, while Russia said a binding UN resolution proposed by France outlining similar goals would be "unacceptable."

And while you wait... read "Americans don't support war like they used to."

Watch Obama's address live at 9 p.m:

UPDATE: 9/10/13 4:50 PM ET

White House says more countries support joint statement

UPDATE: 9/10/13 4:15 PM ET

Kerry to meet Russia's Lavrov

Multiple sources reporting:

UPDATE: 9/10/13 4:10 PM ET

As Obama prepares to speak, watch what Assad said

The Syrian president's Instagram account has done a pretty good job of ignoring the tiny, inconsequential problem of a bloody civil war happening in his country.

On Tuesday, the account posted this picture:

It was taken during Assad's interview with PBS/CBS journalist Charlie Rose. Watch the entire interview:

And here is a transcript of the interview.

UPDATE: 9/10/13 4:00 PM ET

Kerry's comments on Syria

In case you missed Secretary of State John Kerry answering questions on Syria earlier, here is a recording of the Google+ hangout (hosted by New York Times' Nicholas Kristof and Syria Deeply's Lara Setrakian).


UPDATE: 9/10/13 3:45 PM ET

Syria's opposition criticizes "international apathy and indecision"

While actors as disparate as Iran, Russia and the United Nations secretary general have backed the vague idea of Syria turning over its chemical weapons to international control in order to stave off military action, the Syrian opposition is not happy about international community's reticence.

Key figures of the opposition Syrian National Coalition wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post on Monday, titled, "Why America must act on Syria."

Ahmad al-Jarba, president of the SNC, and Brig. Gen. Salim Idris, of the Free Syrian Army wrote:

"This international apathy and indecision convinces Assad that he is invincible and emboldens him to unleash barbaric horrors on a defenseless population."

"For all its horror, the situation today is minor compared with what could still happen if Assad is not deterred or held accountable for his crimes."

"At least a third of Syria’s population is homeless and destitute; inaction will augment the scale of this unprecedented humanitarian catastrophe, and despair will breed radicalism — especially if more chemical attacks are carried out."

"So far, global inaction and his allies’ protective actions have granted him impunity to terrorize his nation and the region. Dithering by the world’s most powerful states empowers not only the vicious Assad regime but also the extremist agenda of the al-Qaeda-style terrorists seeping into Syria from the east."

Read the full op-ed in The Post.

UPDATE: 9/10/13 3:30 PM ET

The reaction in Europe... relief?

After weeks of confusion and division over Syria, there was near unanimous support in Europe for the Russian proposal to place Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons under international control.

Above all, Europeans are relieved that Moscow's plan has opened the possibility of a solution that would ensure an end to chemical attacks while avoiding a widening of the military conflict.

"I hope that these developments will facilitate the resumption of efforts towards a political solution," said Catherine Ashton, the European Union's high representative for foreign affairs. "I urge all partners in the international community to seize this momentum to reinvigorate the process leading to the swift holding of a peace conference."

Markets followed governments in responding positively to the Russian plan, the main share indexes in Germany, France and Spain all rose about 2 percent.

Read Paul Ames' full report from Portugal: "Europe welcomes the return of diplomacy over Syria"

UPDATE: 9/10/13 3:05 PM ET

UN Security Council meeting postponed

Agence France-Presse reported:

A UN Security Council meeting on Syria planned for 2000 GMT on Tuesday was postponed at the request of Russia, which had called the talks, council envoys said.

No reason was given for calling off the closed talks among the 15 council members. "The meeting has been called off until further notice," said a council diplomat.

UPDATE: 9/10/13 2:55 PM ET

More on Syria's plan

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said Syria was ready to declare its chemical weapons and sign the chemical weapons convention, according to the Associated Press.

Muallem said Syria would cooperate on implementing the Russian proposal and stop producing chemical weapons, The AP reported.

"We want to join the chemical weapons ban treaty. We will respect our commitments in relation to the treaty, including providing information on these weapons," Muallem said in a statement.

Kerry, speaking on a Google+ hangout hosted by New York Times Nicholas Kristof and Syria Deeply's Lara Setrakian, said Russia would be sending the US details on how to secure Syria's chemical weapons stockpile later Tuesday.

Kerry, who had just spoken to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, said the US would require "a full resolution from the Security Council in order to have confidence that this has the force that it has to have."

He also said there would have to be "consequences if games are played."

Kerry also reiterated that there would be no boots on the ground, "not today, not ever in the future."

"This matters to your security," Kerry said, reiterating that the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons violated an international standard in place for 100 years.

UPDATE: 9/10/13 2:30 PM ET

AFP, AP: Syrian FM says Syria's ready to declare its chemical weapons

More developments on Syria:

UPDATE: 9/10/13 2:00 PM ET

What Putin said about US use of force

Putin addressed the latest developments in Syria on Tuesday, according to RT.

Speaking to the media, Putin said, "Certainly, this is all reasonable, it will function and will work out, only if the US and those who support it on this issue pledge to renounce the use of force, because it is difficult to make any country – Syria or any other country in the world – to unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration."

Putin also talked with Obama on the sidelines of the G20 about the disarmament of Syria's chemical weapons, according to RT.

He and Obama decided to instruct Secretary of State John Kerry to work with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov to "try to move this idea forward."

Read more at RT.

UPDATE: 9/10/13 1:40 PM ET

Russia: The new peacemaker in Syria?

Moscow found itself on Tuesday playing the role of international peacemaker after Damascus agreed to its surprise proposal to transfer Syria’s chemical weapons to international control, suggesting the Russian plan may help thwart a potential US strike.

But the Kremlin indicated it wouldn’t back a strong resolution to control Syria's chemical weapons' stocks that France is preparing to table at the UN Security Council later Tuesday. British Prime Minister David Cameron said the vote would indicate whether Russia’s proposal is a “ruse” to delay action over Syria.

The Kremlin said it would draft a non-binding UN declaration instead.

Read the full report.

UPDATE: 9/10/13 1:20 PM ET

Putin counters

More from Reuters:

"For his part, Putin says that the plan for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons will only work if the United States rejects the use of force, and that he hopes the plan will be a "good step toward a peaceful solution" in Syria."

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has called France's resolution under chapter 7 of the UN charter "unacceptable."

The New York Times White House correspondent, Peter Baker, tweeted:

UPDATE: 9/10/13 1:10 PM ET

UN Security Council to hold emergency talks

The UN Security Council will hold an emergency session at 4 p.m. EST on Tuesday evening, according to ITV. The closed-door session is expected to focus on the Russian proposal which Secretary of State Kerry called the "ideal way" to resolve the problem of the Assad regime's chemical weapons stockpiles.

France pushed for a resolution under chapter 7 of the UN chapter, which Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called "unacceptable."

UPDATE: 9/10/13 12:50 PM ET

Russia doesn't like France's UN proposal

Russian news wire Interfax tweeted this:

The BBC reported:

"French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said he had spoken on Tuesday to Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who told him that Moscow was not in favour of a binding resolution."

"The motion would be tabled under Chapter 7 of the UN charter covering possible military and non-military action to restore peace."

British Prime Minister Cameron said a UN security resolution would be tabled Tuesday night by the UK, US and France to test whether Russia's proposal on Monday was a "ruse," according to the Guardian.

"The British prime minister, who spoke to Barack Obama on Tuesday afternoon after Russia said Syria should place its chemical weapons under international control, said the three allies would use the UN to see whether Moscow was embarking on a delaying tactic."

So where does this leave the proposal? Secretary of State Kerry, who just finished testifying before a House panel is set to talk with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Watch this space...

UPDATE: 9/10/13 12:15 PM ET

France calling Russia's bluff?

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, after speaking to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, said that Russia would not back a binding UN resolution on Syria.

The report came as Kerry said Obama, Hollande and Cameron were willing to work with Russia and China on the proposal for Assad's regime to turn over chemical weapons to the international community.

Earlier Monday, Syria's foreign minister said Syria would accept Russia's proposal.

"We held a very fruitful round of talks with [Russian] Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday [Monday], and he proposed an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And in the evening, we agreed to the Russian initiative," Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said from Moscow.

What would the French resolution have looked like?

"Fabius said the resolution would require Assad to offer full disclosure of his chemical weapons programme and that his arsenal be dismantled 'without delay.'"

"The foreign minister says the resolution will also demand that the perpetrators of the chemical attack in Damascus that left scores dead, be handed over to the International Criminal Court to face justice."

UPDATE: 9/10/13 11:55 AM ET

What does this mean for the opposition?

Reuters reported on the reaction in Syria to the proposal put forward by Russia:

"Syria's rebels reacted with deep dismay, saying the proposal had already emboldened Assad to launch a deadly new offensive and meant that last month's gas attacks would now go unpunished."

"Assad's forces - which had been withdrawing from fixed positions and bracing for expected Western strikes - appear to have responded to the hesitation by redoubling an offensive to clear fighters from Damascus suburbs."

"Troops and pro-Assad militiamen tried to seize the northern district of Barzeh and the eastern suburb of Deir Salman near Damascus airport, working-class Sunni Muslim areas where opposition activists and residents reported street fighting."

"Fighter jets bombed Barzeh three times and pro-Assad militia backed by army tank fire made a push into the area. Air raids were also reported on the Western outskirts near Mouadamiya."

Read Reuters full report.

UPDATE: 9/10/13 11:50 AM ET

Russia doesn't want a UN resolution

AFP and Al Jazeera reporting:

UPDATE: 9/10/13 11:25 AM ET

US, UK and France will work with Russia and China on Syria proposal

President Obama agreed to talks at the United Nations to "explore seriously the viability" of the Russian proposal for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons, according to Politico, which cited a White House official.

Obama spoke to French President Hollande and British Prime Minister Cameron and "they agreed to work closely together, and in consultation with Russia and China" on a solution that would see the chemical weapons' "verifiable and enforceable destruction," the official said.

Read more at Politico.

UPDATE: 9/10/13 11:05 AM ET

Obama, the UN and Russia's proposal

UPDATE: 9/10/13 11:00 AM ET

Sen. McConnell will not vote for military authorization

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday voiced his opposition to the Syria resolution before Congress, which would authorize the United States to use military force against Assad's regime.

McConnell said, "I will be voting against this resolution."

Explaining his reasoning, McConnell said, "These attacks, monstrous as they are, were not a direct attack against the United States or one of its treaty allies. And just so there’s no confusion, let me assure everyone that if a weapon of mass destruction were used against the U.S. or one of our allies, Congress would react immediately with an authorization for the use of force in support of an overwhelming response. I would introduce the resolution myself."

"I’ve concluded that being credible on Syria requires presenting a credible response, and having a credible strategy. And for all the reasons I’ve indicated, this proposal just doesn’t pass muster," McConnell said, signaling that he would not vote for the authorization of military force against Syria.

"In Syria, a limited strike would not resolve the civil war there. Nor will it remove Assad from power. There appears to be no broader strategy to train, advise, and assist a vetted opposition group on a meaningful scale, as we did during the Cold War," McConnell said.

Read McConnell's full statement on the Senate floor.

UPDATE: 9/10/13 9:40 AM ET

Syrian government used chemical weapons on its own people: HRW

A new Human Rights Watch investigation is a timely reminder of why the world doesn't trust Syria with chemical weapons.

GlobalPost senior correspondent Tracey Shelton reports:

BEIRUT, Lebanon — All evidence in an independent investigation of the horrific chemical weapons attack in Damascus on Aug. 21 points to the Syrian government, according to a report released Tuesday by Human Rights Watch.

The 22-page report examines eyewitness accounts, medical records and physical remnants of the weapons, concluding that the type of rockets and launchers used in these attacks are “weapon systems known and documented to be only in the possession of, and used by, Syrian government armed forces.”

“We are certain this was a chemical weapon attack. We are certain it was a large-scale attack and we are almost certain the Syrian government is responsible,” Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, said via phone Tuesday morning from Geneva. “The various theories advanced to suggest that opposition forces may have been responsible for the attack lack credibility.”

Read Shelton's full report here.

UPDATE: 9/10/13 8:55 AM ET

How do you destroy a chemical weapons stockpile, anyway?

More on the logistics of the proposal to disarm Syria from Reuters, which points out that it's a Herculean task:

"Accounting for Syria's chemical arms cache — believed to be spread over dozens of locations — ould be difficult, as would be shielding arms inspectors from violence. [...] Experts say it would take months to locate and secure Syria's chemical weapons and years to destroy them — and there is always the possibility some are left over."

More bluntly, one US official said: "You're in the middle of a brutal civil war where the Syrian regime is massacring its own people. Does anyone think they're going to suddenly stop the killing to allow inspectors to secure and destroy all the chemical weapons?"

Read the full Reuters report here

UPDATE: 9/10/13 8:30 AM ET

Syria agrees to give up chemical weapons: Foreign Minister

The Syrian government accepts Russia's proposal that it hand over its chemical arsenal for destruction by international authorities, according to reports in Russian and Syrian state media.

"Yesterday we held a round of very fruitful negotiations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and he put forward an initiative regarding chemical weapons," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was quoted as saying today. "Already in the evening we accepted Russia's initiative."

His friendly tone didn't extend to the US, however: Muallem said the move would aim to "pull the rug from under the feet of American aggression."

NB: Muallem was cited by Russian media as welcoming the proposal yesterday, but today the same reports appeared on Syria's state news agency, SANA. In a lengthy statement, Muallem was quoted as accusing President Barack Obama of aggression. "The diplomatic channels to resolve this issue have not been exhausted," he said. 

The next step, presumably, is for Russia to present its concrete proposals; for the moment, it's still all talk.

UPDATE: 9/10/13 5:30 AM ET

France to take disarmament proposal to UN

France plans to present a resolution to the UN Security Council calling for Syria to give up its nuclear weapons, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has just said.

The resolution sounds like it will be based on the Russian plan, but with three significant conditions:

  • First, Syria's entire chemical arsenal must be destroyed. 
  • Second, there must be serious consequences if the Syrian government fails to comply.
  • Third, all those responsible for the suspected chemical attack near Damascus on Aug. 21 be punished. 

France will have to move quickly if it wants to take the lead: Russia says it is working on a "concrete" plan of its own that it will present to other nations soon.

UPDATE: 9/10/13 5:10 AM ET

China, Iran, Ban add to support for Syrian disarmament

Beijing is the latest government to come out in favor of the proposal to take charge of Syria's chemical weapons. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman welcomed the "Russian proposal," as he called it, and urged the international community to do the same, Reuters reports.

Earlier today, Iran gave its support to the plan as a move against "militarism in the region," state-run Press TV said

And UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said he was "considering urging the Security Council to demand the immediate transfer of Syria's chemical weapons and chemical precursor stocks to places inside Syria where they can be safely stored and destroyed." The step could overcome the Security Council's "embarrassing paralysis," he added.

UPDATE: 9/10/13 4:30 AM ET

A decent proposal?

The Kerry Solution, as no one is calling it (...yet), now has support from Russia, Iran, the UN secretary general, Syria's foreign minister — though we don't know about the rest of the Syrian government — and, cautiously, President Obama. 

But how workable is it? The BBC's diplomatic correspondent, Bridget Kendall, sets out the difficulties:

"First, the Syrian government would need to confirm that it does in fact have chemical weapons, something which for decades it has refused to do [...]. 

"Then Damascus would need to identify exactly which and what quantities of chemicals were stored at which location. Such a declaration would need to be verified, probably by UN inspectors, who would need to go in to confirm that the claims of the Syrian government were matched by what they found on the ground."

... and all this in the middle of a war zone. The chances of carrying out the plan admittedly look slim — but for the moment, it's the best anyone's got. And dismissing it as unrealistic would expose Obama and his allies to accusations of war-mongering.

Read Kendall's full analysis here.

UPDATE: 9/10/13 4:00 AM ET

Obama positive on disarmament plan 

The proposal that Syria hand over its chemical weapons to avert a foreign strike is gathering steam. President Barack Obama used his six network TV interviews last night to say that he would "absolutely" call off plans to launch air strikes if it could be confirmed that the Syrian government had turned over its entire stockpile to international authorities — while stressing that he's still skeptical that will happen.

"I think you have to take it with a grain of salt initially," Obama told NBC News of the proposal first thrown out by his Secretary of State John Kerry as a hypothetical scenario, then backed by Russia.

But if — and it's still a big if — the international community can be assured that Bashar al-Assad's government no longer has chemical weapons at its disposal, Obama said the offer could potentially prove "a significant breakthrough."

Watch Obama's full interview with NBC here:

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UPDATE: 9/9/13 5:05 PM ET

Obama takes over the airwaves

President Obama is set to make his case for military action in Syria on network television Monday evening, giving six interviews in a row.

Here are the network news anchors:

UPDATE: 9/9/13 5:00 PM ET

How Syria is the new Rwanda

Tracey Shelton reports:

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Every day, 2013 Syria is becoming more like 1994 Rwanda.

While civil violence inside the country has killed upwards of 100,000 people, millions fleeing the fighting have lost their homes and means to survive. Over 2 million have poured into neighboring countries as refugees; as many as 7 million, meanwhile, are internally displaced.

“We haven’t seen something like that maybe since Rwanda,” said Raymond Offenheiser, the president of Oxfam America.

WATCH: On location video: How Syria is the new Rwanda

UPDATE: 9/9/13 4:15 PM ET

The fighting continues in Syria

While the international community is caught up in diplomatic wrangling over how to respond to the Assad regime's alleged use of chemical weapons, the fighting (and loss of lives) in Syria continues unabated.

According to the Associated Press, which cited activists, Syrian troops launched an offensive against rebel-held positions around the mostly Christian village of Maaloula.

The AP wrote:

"The battle for Maaloula, has stoked fears among Syrian Christians that the alternative to Assad’s regime — which is made up mostly of Alawites, followers of an offshoot of Shiite Islam — would not tolerate minority religions. Such concerns have helped Assad retain the support of large chunks of Syria’s minority communities, including Christians, Alawites, Druze and ethnic Kurds. Most of the rebels and their supporters are Sunni Muslims."

The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights fighters from factions affiliated with Al Qaeda controlled the village, but were bombarded by Assad's troops.

Read more on the offensive at the Associated Press.

UPDATE: 9/9/13 3:50 PM ET

France: Syria must accept Russian proposal

"The proposal of the Russian foreign minister... is worthy of close scrutiny," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Monday. "It would be acceptable under at least three conditions."

According to Reuters, Fabius said Assad would have to allow international control of his chemical stockpiles and allow their destruction. He also said such action should take place after a Security Council resolution.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had this to say about the plan, according to Al Jazeera:

"I’m not sure this plan came out of serious negotiations. When we were in St Petersburg [for G20] this was not on the agenda. But in any case, ridding a country, a neighbour especially, of chemical weapons is a positive thing and we see it as such."

UPDATE: 9/9/13 2:45 PM ET

Clinton on Syria: Russia proposal cannot be excuse for delay

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton briefly addressed the Syria situation on Monday afternoon.

She insisted that the international community cannot ignore Assad's stockpiles of chemical weapons.

Clinton referred to the proposal put forward by the Russians (inspired by current Secretary of State John Kerry's hypothetical musing), which would require Assad's regime to hand over control of chemical weapons to the international community, calling it an "important step."

But, she said, "it cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction."

Clinton said the broader conflict in Syria posed a threat to the regional security of US allies and was a humanitarian catastrophe for the Syrian people.

She noted that the proposal now being discussed would only work under the "threat of military force" by the US.

UPDATE: 9/9/13 2:25 PM ET

Kerry's hypothetical solution gaining popularity?

Deputy National Security Advisor Tony Blinken said the Obama administration would take a "hard look" at Russia's proposal for Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons to be turned over to the international community.

"We’re going to take a hard look at this, we’ll talk to the Russians about it," Blinken said, according to Politico. "It’s clear that this proposal comes in the context of U.S. action and the pressure the president is exerting."

Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes tweeted:

And the Guardian's Spencer Ackerman on Sen. Dianne Feinstein (as the Senate decided to vote on the authorization of military action in Syria on Wednesday):

UPDATE: 9/9/13 2:15 PM ET

The Senate will vote Wednesday

According to The Washington Post, here is the latest vote count:

UPDATE: 9/9/13 2:00 PM ET

Kerry's rhetorical flourish

State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said the proposal for Syria to turn its chemical weapons over to international control was purely hypothetical. She added that the Russians were using the proposal as a stalling tactic, as they had before.

On Monday morning, Secretary of State John Kerry talked in London about something Assad could do to avoid military strikes, saying, "Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting."

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki walked back Kerry's statement later in the day, saying, "Secretary Kerry was making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied he used."

The BBC's Paul Danahar mused on the reaction behind the scenes:

Blogger Andrew Sullivan summed it up thus:

"So we have the possibility of two things: that Russia might actually act decisively to rein Assad in, and also support the only viable policy to accomplish what Obama wants – protecting the world from these vile weapons. I have no idea whether this is a serious move by Lavrov – but it sure seems so, and it presents a fascinating non-binary option."

And Jeffrey Goldberg, who's a columnist for Bloomberg:

UPDATE: 9/9/13 1:40 PM ET

Rice says "the one indispensable leader in the world" must intervene

In remarks at the New America Foundation on Monday, National Security Advisor Susan Rice made the case — as members of the Obama administration have so many times in recent days — for intervetion in the Syria conflict.

Rice said that intelligence shows that it was the regime who launched chemical weapons in Syria on Aug. 21, and that senior officials both planned the attack and plotted to cover it up afterward.

Missiles were “fired from territory controlled by regime,” she said, and landed in areas contested or controlled by the opposition. Further, Rice argued, the regime has the capability to launch an attack of the size seen last month; the rebels do not.

In answer to the American public’s concern over military intervention, Rice said that the US has “exhausted other methods” to deter Assad’s violence.

A limited military strike now is thus “the right way” to deter Assad going forward, she said.

"What  do we mean by limited?" Rice later asked rhetorically.

"This would not be Iraq or Afghanistan. There would be no American boots on the ground, period. Nor would it resemble Kosovo or Libya," she said.

Rice continued, "In short, this would not be an open-ended intervention. … These strikes would not aim to topple Assad or by themselves to effect regime change. … Like many, I understand the public skepticism over using military force."

The United States’ overarching goal in Syria is a “negotiated political transition” that sees Assad removed from power, Rice said. “A ceasefire and a political solution are also the only ways to eliminate completely the Syrian chemical weapons threat.”

She went on to say that Assad or regional actors would be "foolish" to challenge the US after a strike. Iran and North Korea especially are watching to see if the US will “stand up,” and will be emboldened if we don’t, Rice said.

As “the one indispensable leader in the world,” the US must intervene, she argued.

UPDATE: 9/9/13 12:45 PM ET

Pew: Most Americans oppose US strikes in Syria

A Pew Research poll published Monday showed that opposition to US airstrikes in Syria has risen 15 points in the last week, from 48 percent to 63 percent. Pew said the surge came from those who were undecided about strikes making up their minds.

Meanwhile, the percentage of those surveyed who supported the strikes remained at 28 percent.

Around 45 percent of the 1,506 adults surveyed between Sept. 4-8 said they strongly opposed airstrikes.

The full poll is available at Pew.

Bloomberg's chart of congressional support showed that while half of the Senate was undecided and those for and against military action in Syria were evenly split, the House was overwhelmingly opposed to military action in Syria.

The latest vote count can be found at Bloomberg.

UPDATE: 9/9/13 12:05 PM ET

Atomic fallout of US intervention?

The US does not agree with Moscow's request for the United Nations atomic watchdog agency to investigate what could happen if a small nuclear reactor in a Damascus suburb is hit during a military strike.

AFP obtained text of US Ambassador Joseph Macmanus' remarks during a closed-door IAEA meeting in Vienna on Monday.

The "requests for comprehensive risk analyses of hypothetical scenarios are beyond the IAEA's statutory authority," Macmanus reportedly said. "The IAEA has never before conducted this type of analysis, it would exceed IAEA's mandate, has far-reaching implications that exceed IAEA capabilities and authorities."

No UN nuclear expert has yet risked speculating on worst-case scenarios, though IAEA chief Yukiya Amano did say there was "not a big amount" of radioactive material on site.

Still, Russia has not backed down from its claim that a strike could have "catastrophic" consequences if the Miniature Neutron Source Reactor were damaged or destroyed. 

The proposal is still being considered, with AFP reporting IAEA member states are divided on the best course of action. 

UPDATE: 9/9/13 11:55 AM ET

Reuters: Syria welcomes Russia's comments on chemical weapons

Reuters reported that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem welcomed Russia's proposal for the Syrian government to place its chemical weapons stockpiles under international control.

The statement comes after Muallem spoke with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who said he hoped for a "fast and positive answer."

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in a press conference shortly before noon, also said he welcomed such a measure. 

UPDATE: 9/9/13 11:50 AM ET

UN Secretary General remarks on Syria

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made comments on the ongoing investigation into the use of chemical weapons in Syria:

Meanwhile, this update on Russia suggesting that Syria should hand over its chemical weapons:

UPDATE: 9/9/13 11:15 AM ET

Russia to Assad: Give up chemical arms

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov supported the idea at a news conference, saying he had floated the proposal to Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem, who is in Moscow for talks.

Lavrov said he looked for "a quick and, I hope, a positive answer," according to Reuters.

"We do not know whether Syria will agree to this, but if the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in that country will avoid strikes, we will immediately begin working with Damascus," Lavrov said, urging Syria to sign and ratify the Convention on Chemical Weapons

"We call on the Syrian leadership not only to agree on a statement of storage of chemical weapons under international supervision, but also to their subsequent destruction," the Russian foreign minister added, according to The Washington Post.

Earlier on Monday, Kerry said Assad could avoid a US military strike if he gave up his chemical arms stockpile. However, the secretary did not appear to be making an earnest offer. 

“Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over. All of it, without delay. And allow the full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it,” Kerry said. 

UPDATE: 9/9/13 11:10 AM ET

Where the House stands

As Assad made his first comments to American media in nearly two years, US President Barack Obama had a full line up of interviews scheduled with NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, CNN and Fox News on Monday.

He will have to convince the American public and Congress about the need for military action in Syria. This is where the latest vote count of the House stands on Syria:

UPDATE: 9/9/13 9:00 AM ET

Syria's Assad claims US has 'no evidence' of chemical arms use

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has taken his case to the American public, claiming in an interview Sunday with PBS host Charlie Rose that the United States does not have "a single shred of evidence" the Syrian military used chemical weapons on its own civilians.

In recent weeks, the US government — along with the UK, France, and other allies — has condemned the Assad regime's alleged use of weapons such as sarin nerve gas in an attack on Aug. 21, which the White House says killed more than 1,400 civilians.

On Monday, Congress returned from recess and this week will debate whether to authorize President Barack Obama to punish the Assad regime with military action.

While it's widely believed the Syrian government holds large stockpiles of chemical arms, the regime has for years refused to confirm or deny their possession. If they exist, they are "in centralized control," Assad told Rose during the interview, excerpts of which aired early Monday on "CBS This Morning."

The Syrian president went on to compare Washington's case for intervention with the buildup to the invasion of Iraq. 

"[Secretary of State John Kerry] presented his confidence and he presented his convictions," Assad said. "It's not about confidence, it's about evidence. The United — sorry, the Russians have completely opposite evidence that the missiles were thrown from area where the rebels controlled. That reminds me — bout what Kerry said — about the big lie that [former Secretary of State] Colin Powell said in front of the world on satellites about the WMD in Iraq before going to war when he said, 'This is our evidence.' Actually, he gave false evidence. In this case, Kerry didn't even present any evidence. He talks, 'we have evidence,' and he didn't present anything, not yet. Nothing so far ... not a single shred of evidence." 

Kerry quickly refuted Assad's remarks.

"The evidence is powerful and the question for all of us is what are we going to do," Kerry said at a London news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague Monday. 

"We know that his regime gave orders to prepare for a chemical attack. We know they deployed forces," Kerry added, saying "it was no accident that they [rockets] all came from regime controlled territory and all landed" in rebel-held areas.

Kerry proposed a highly unlikely scenario in which the Syrian government could avoid what lawmakers are calling a limited and targeted US military strike.

"Sure, he could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it without delay and allow the full and total accounting [of it], but he isn't about to do it and it can't be done," Kerry said.

Russia — Syria's strongest ally — also gave remarks on Monday, urging the US to avoid military action and instead convene a peace conference, despite the failure of similar meetings in the past to end the civil war that has killed more than 100,000 people since 2011. 

Congress is set to vote on military action sometime this week, with the Senate taking up the issue as early as Wednesday, though it's unclear when the House will vote.

Watch part of Assad's interview:

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