In Media Blitz, Obama Says Russian Proposal Could Avert Syria Strike

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Pete Souza / The White House/ Reuters

President Barack Obama participates in an interview with Chris Wallace, anchor of "Fox News Sunday," in the Blue Room of the White House on Sept. 9, 2013

In a whirlwind round of interviews with six network news anchors, President Barack Obama offered his Administration’s most positive comments yet on a Russian plan for the international community to take custody of Syria’s chemical weapons. The President said the idea, floated this morning in seemingly off-the-cuff remarks by Secretary of State John Kerry, could avert a military strike.

“This could potentially be a significant breakthrough,” Obama told NBC News’ Savannah Guthrie.

“So it is a potentially positive development,” he added to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “I have to say that it’s unlikely that we would have arrived at that point where there were even public statements like that without a credible military threat to deal with the chemical-weapons use inside of Syria. But we’re going to run this to ground.”

In an interview with PBS NewsHour’s Gwen Ifill, Obama added that Russian President Vladimir Putin raised the chemical-weapons proposal in their discussion at the G-20 Summit last Friday in St. Petersburg. “I did have those conversations,” he said.

Obama did not explain why he and his aides chose not to publicly promote Putin’s idea until today, after Kerry’s remarks.

“This doesn’t solve the underlying terrible conflict inside of Syria,” Obama added to CNN. “But if we can accomplish this limited goal without taking military action, that would be my preference.”

In his interview with NBC, Obama said he was “heartbroken” when he watched videos of the chemical-weapons attack that the U.S. believes killed more than 1,400 Syrians.

Obama told NBC “I wouldn’t say I’m confident” about getting the votes in Congress for military authorization in Syria, adding, “I think it’s fair to say that I haven’t decided” about whether he will strike unilaterally if Congress votes down his request.

Shortly after Obama finished his interviews, Senate majority leader Harry Reid announced he was delaying a planned procedural vote in that chamber to authorize the use of military force against Syria. The Senate vote could have come as soon as Wednesday; its timing now is uncertain.