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Breakthrough? Syria Hints It Might Give Up Chemical Weapons

NPR icon by Mark Memmott
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Jewel Samad

(We most recently updated this post at 9:35 a.m. ET.)

Amid reports that Syrian President Bashar Assad may be willing to give up his chemical weapons, France will put a resolution before the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that calls on Syria to hand them over to international monitors and "accept that they will be dismantled," France 24 reports.

Word about the resolution comes from French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. It follows the dramatic events of Monday, which as NPR's Corey Flintoff explained on Morning Edition, began when Secretary of State John Kerry said Assad might be able to head off a U.S. military strike if he turns over "every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week."

Within hours of Kerry's comment, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was saying he had urged his Syrian counterpart to do that. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem then said his nation welcomed the Russian suggestion. Finally, President Obama capped the day by telling U.S. TV networks that he favors a diplomatic solution to the crisis.

Among the unknowns as the day began: How the French resolution will or won't compare to the idea floated by Lavrov; the details of just what Syria has supposedly accepted; and whether Assad would abide by whatever language and potential requirements are in the French resolution.

Now, along with the news about the resolution that France will put before the Security Council — which might win support from Russia and China — there's word from Russia's Interfax news agency that "Syria accepts" the Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control.

The Russian news outlet RT.com reports that, according to Interfax, the Syrian foreign minister said Tuesday that "we accepted Russia's initiative."

The Associated Press quotes the minister as saying Syria hopes its decision will "uproot U.S. aggression."

From the White House on Tuesday morning, spokesman Jay Carney told MSNBC that "we need to make sure ... that the Syrians are serious and will actually follow through on a commitment to give up a chemical weapons stockpile that they've been husbanding for decades."

"There is ample reason to be skeptical," Carney added. He also said President Obama will press forward with his effort to win congressional approval for possible military action against Assad. It is the threat of such action, said Carney, that has led to a "possible" diplomatic breakthrough. A Senate vote on the president's request, which had been set for Wednesday, was postponed after word surfaced of the Russian plan.

President Obama is set to address the nation at 9 p.m. ET. While he's expected to again make his case for taking military action against Syria, he's also now expected to address these latest diplomatic developments.

Meanwhile, on CBS This Morning, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona said he is "very skeptical" about reports that Assad's regime has accepted Russia's proposal. "We should be [skeptical]," said McCain, who favors a military response to Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons. "Assad has refused to acknowledge that he even has chemical weapons."

Still, McCain added, perhaps Assad wouldn't even consider accepting such a plan "if it hadn't been for the threat of a military strike."

The Obama administration says intelligence gathered about an attack near Damascus last month indicates that forces loyal to Assad were behind the launching of missiles carrying deadly sarin gas. The administration says it believes more than 1,400 people were killed and even more were injured.

On Tuesday, the independent organization Human Rights Watch issued a report saying it has concluded that "available evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government forces were responsible."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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