The Corner

Obama: Russia Deal ‘Potentially Positive,’ Will ‘Trust but Verify’

President Obama tempered hopes Monday night about a diplomatic proposal for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons, saying “we don’t know the details of it yet,” and assuring that, “to paraphrase Ronald Reagan . . . we don’t just trust, but we also verify.”

Obama told CBS’s Scott Pelley the idea, suggested by the Russian government today, was a “potentially positive development” brought about by the threat of military action from the United States. He also said that a deal would require confidence that Syria’s chemical weapons are “under control, that they are not being used, that potentially they are removed from Syria and that they are destroyed.”

President Obama’s remarks came hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Syria to place its chemical weapons to international control in order to avoid a U.S. strike. Lavrov’s Syrian counterpart, Walid Moallem, welcomed the proposal. The White House tentatively approved of the idea Wednesday afternoon, saying that the United States would welcome Syria’s turning over its chemical arms and would take a “hard look” at the Russian proposal.

President Obama played down remarks made by President Assad in a recent interview describing potential Syrian retaliation in the event of U.S. strikes, saying that he didn’t find the threat “credible,” and Syria’s allies, Iran and Hezbollah, would also not strike the United States over an intervention.

“Our intelligence, I think, is very clear that they would not try to escalate a war with us over limited strikes to deal with this chemical-weapon issue,” Obama said. However, he cautioned that embassies and American personnel in the region were “always potentially vulnerable to asymmetrical attacks.”

The president also admitted public support isn’t yet there for his request for military authorization, saying, “If you ask the average person — including my household – ‘Do we need another military engagement?’ I think the answer generally is gonna be no.”

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