French Foreign Minister Laurant Fabius, whose government had said it would join an American attack and who two days ago stood at Kerry’s side in Paris to pledge an all-out effort to build public support, said it was worth testing. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been wary of a strike, welcomed the idea.
Republican Sens. John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) said the proposal came only because Assad feels the threat of military force and that Congress should continue considering Obama’s request for legislative backing. But the two said the proposal should be given a chance — and a test of its sincerity — by being committed to writing in a U.N. Security Council resolution.
“We should not trust, and we must verify,” the pair said in a joint statement.
A senior State Department official said Kerry warned Lavrov that the United States was “not going to play games.”
Current and former Obama administration officials scrambled Monday to say the proposal should not derail plans for a punitive strike. They suggested it was a delaying tactic after more than two years of diplomatic efforts with Syria and its ally Russia, albeit one spurred by the prospect that a U.S. military attack is imminent.
“It’s very important to note that it’s clear that this proposal comes in the context of the threat of U.S. action and the pressure that the president is exerting,” deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken said at the White House. “So it’s even more important that we don’t take the pressure off and that Congress give the president the authority he’s requested.”
Obama said in an interview on “PBS NewsHour” Monday that he had discussed the possibility of international monitoring with Russian President Vladimir Putin at last week’s Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg.
The senior State Department official said Lavrov had previously discussed the idea in conversations with Kerry, including a telephone call as recently as Thursday, but never in the context of the proposed U.S. military action.
The official, who requested anonymity to detail the internal discussions, said Lavrov told Kerry about the new proposal in a telephone call while Kerry flew home Monday.
The Russian announcement came as several top Obama administration officials were fanning out across Washington in a coordinated lobbying effort.
Inside an hour on Monday afternoon, Blinken, deputy national security adviser Benjamin Rhodes, national security adviser Susan E. Rice, White House press secretary Jay Carney and State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf all made the same argument.
“Failing to respond to this brazen attack could indicate that the United States is not prepared to use the full range of tools necessary to keep our nation secure,” Rice said in an address at the New America Foundation. “Any president, Republican or Democrat, must have recourse to all elements of American power to design and implement our national security policy, whether diplomatic, economic or military.”
In Washington, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton said after a meeting with Obama that if Syria immediately surrenders its chemical weapons, “that would be an important step, but this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction.”
Last month’s reported chemical attack, which the United States says killed more than 1,400 civilians, brought worldwide condemnation, as well as vows of military action by Obama, who had previously described the use of such banned weapons as a “red line.”
Gen. Salim Idriss, chief of staff of the rebel Free Syrian Army, described the Syrian government’s acceptance of the Russian proposal as a “new lie” aimed at heading off intervention.
DeYoung reported from London. Englund reported from Moscow