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Obama: US still ready to strike

WASHINGTON — Syria accepted a Russian proposal on Tuesday to give up chemical weapons but US President Barack Obama said it was too early to tell if the initiative would succeed and he vowed to keep military forces at the ready to strike if diplomacy fails.

In a televised address to Americans, Obama pledged to explore Russia’s proposal for Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control, while expressing skepticism about the initiative.

He said he had asked the US Congress to postpone a vote on authorizing military action while Washington and its allies try to pass a United Nations resolution requiring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up the weapons in a verifiable way.

In a sign of how hard that will be, Russian President Vladimir Putin said earlier that the chemical weapons plan would only succeed if Washington and its allies rule out military action.

In what amounted to the most explicit, high-level admission by Syria that it has chemical weapons, Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said in a statement shown on Russian state television that Damascus was committed to the Russian initiative.

“We want to join the convention on the prohibition of chemical weapons. We are ready to observe our obligations in accordance with that convention, including providing all information about these weapons,” Moualem said.

“We are ready to declare the location of the chemical weapons, stop production of the chemical weapons, and show these (production) facilities to representatives of Russia and other United Nations member states,” he said.

Obama said there had been “encouraging signs” in recent days, in part because of the US threat of military action to punish Assad for what Washington says was the use of poison gas to kill 1,400 civilians in Damascus on August 21.

“It is too early to tell whether this offer will succeed,” Obama said. “And 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.”

Moscow has previously vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions that would have condemned the Syrian government over the conflict. (Reuters)

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