Reacting to a surprise proposal brought forward by Russian leaders Monday that could result in Syria eliminating stockpiles of chemical weapons, Sen. Bob Corker expressed doubt that the idea could gain traction.
The proposal, put forward with the intent of averting a U.S. strike on targets affiliated with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, resulted in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pushing back a voice vote on a resolution for authorizing military force that had been scheduled for Wednesday and with President Barack Obama describing the development as "potentially positive."
Corker, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed "healthy skepticism" at the shift in debate. The senator added that the option would not have been possible without last week's approval of a strike authorization by the committee.
"While at this point I have healthy skepticism that this offer will change the situation and it will be several days before we can fully determine its credibility, I do know that it would have never been floated if the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had not approved the authorization for the use of force last week," Corker said in a news release.
The diplomatic proposal came on the day before Obama is set to address the nation regarding U.S. response to the alleged use of chemical weapons on Aug. 21 by the Assad regime. In interviews with national television networks Monday, the president expressed openness to the idea, which could offer him an escape from ordering a controversial strike.
"I think you have to take it with a grain of salt," Obama was quoted saying in a Reuters report. "But between the statements that we saw from the Russians, the statement today from the Syrians, this represents a potentially positive development. We are going to run this into the ground."
According to a New York Times report, the proposal would involve Syria allowing "international monitors" to take control of its chemical weapons, which would then be dismantled. The Wall Street Journal has also reported that France intends to submit a resolution to the United Nations Security Council aimed at providing the basis for dismantling Syria's chemical arsenal.
Corker, who was among a group of GOP senators who dined with Obama and Vice President Joe Biden Sunday, was quoted in a Politico report saying he did not want any developments to distance Obama from previous comments describing the use of chemical weapons as crossing a "red line" and meriting a U.S. response. The senator and former Chattanooga mayor said he spoke to Obama directly on the issue and added that he hoped a change in rhetoric would not result in a binding shift in U.S. foreign policy.
"I did mention to him last night that the comments in Sweden were not particularly helpful, regarding the red line being the world's red line," Corker was quoted saying. "When the president as commander in chief—whether you support him or not, whether you like him or not—on behalf of our nation establishes a red line when it comes to dealing with other issues in the region and other issues in the world, that's an important piece of our foreign policy. I do hope he will re-establish that this was a red line for him and for the United States of America and take ownership."
Also on Monday, Sen. Lamar Alexander said he would vote no on a resolution authorizing a strike when it goes before the Senate this week.
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