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US President Barack Obama said he would consider a Russian proposal to put Syria's chemical arms under international control, but will nevertheless press his case in a prime-time television speech later on Tuesday for Congress to authorise a military strike on the country.
In a series of television interviews aimed at winning over an American public wary of military intervention in Syria, Obama said Moscow's proposal was “a positive development” that could put American strike plans “on hold” - but he was doubtful that Damascus would follow through.
Obama will address the American people from the East Room of the White House on Tuesday evening, his latest media push on Syria before a likely vote in Congress this week on the use of force.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the chemical arms proposal in Moscow on Monday, during a visit by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, who said his country welcomed the initiative.
The Syrian opposition rejected the offer, saying it was an attempt to buy time, and pressed the international community to punish the regime of President Bashar al-Assad over its alleged role in using chemical weapons.
Iran, an ally of al-Assad, called the Russian proposal a step in the right direction.
“We welcome any proposal that is against war and for peace,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marsieh Afcham on Tuesday.
The US and France have been leading calls for a military response to last month's alleged chemical weapons attacks, which Washington says killed more than 1 400 people.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Russia's proposal would be “acceptable” if the Syrian government allowed its entire chemical arsenal to be destroyed without delay.
The New York based Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that available evidence suggests that Syrian government forces were responsible for the August 21 attacks, which appeared to have a weapons grade nerve agent, most likely Sarin.
“Rocket debris and the symptoms of the victims from the August 21 attacks on Ghouta provide telltale evidence about the weapon systems used,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at HRW.
The watchdog said the type of rockets and launchers used in these attacks strongly suggests that they were weapon systems known only to be in the possession of, and used by, government armed forces.
Al-Assad warned of the repercussions of any military strike on his country, when asked whether such action might provoke attacks on US military bases in the Middle East. - Sapa-dpa