Russia urges Assad to relinquish chemical weapons to deter US
Moscow tells Syria to put arsenals under international control as John Kerry continues to campaign for military strikes
RUSSIA says it will urge the Assad regime to place its chemical weapons under international control in a bid to avert a US strike on Syria.
As the Obama administration ramped up its campaign to convince the US Congress to support a strike, Russia's foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said it would begin "immediately" efforts to convince its Syrian ally to relinquish control of its chemical arsenals.
The announcement came as the US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in London that not responding to the chemical attack launched by the Assad regime would be "riskier" than taking action. Speaking ahead of talks with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Kerry said inaction would send a signal to Damascus that it could "intimidate" anyone it wanted. "I don't believe that we should shy from this moment: the risk of not acting is greater than the risk of acting," Kerry said.
His speech came as the Obama administration stepped up its efforts to convince the US Congress - and the American people - that a strike on Syria is essential. As members of Congress returned from their summer recess today they were shown 13 "hard-to-stomach" videos of the aftermath of the chemical weapons attack near Damascus in a desperate bid to win their support for a military intervention.
Kerry described that intervention today as an "unbelievably small" attack that would degrade Assad's chemical weapons capability without drawing America into a ground war. But his words were greeted with hostility by President Bashar al-Assad, who told a US TV station that the US should "expect every action" if it went ahead with a strike on his country.
The videos the Obama administration is showing to members of Congress have been available on YouTube for some time, but were only recently verified by US intelligence agencies. They are seen as a key tool in shifting opinion ahead of a Congress vote on military intervention later this week.
"That video will sensitise the American people that this isn't just an intervention, that this is a military strike to stop that type of atrocity," former UN ambassador Bill Richardson told CNN.
President Obama's campaign to win the hearts and minds - but crucially, the votes - of Congress, will also be bolstered by several appearances on US TV networks today. He will formally address the nation tomorrow in a televised speech about the Syrian crisis.
Sky News says the White House believes an endorsement from the Senate "could be in reach", but the House of Representatives is far from swayed. Obama faces a "wall of opposition from both Republicans and from many of his Democratic allies in the House of Representatives," says Sky.
The White House has refused to say whether Obama, "elected in 2008 promising to end foreign wars", would press ahead with a strike on Syria even if Congress votes ‘no'.
Secretary of State John Kerry is doing his best to whip up support for the president. Speaking in Paris overnight, he said 12 nations were now prepared to take part in a strike on Syria. Kerry said those nations would make their own announcements about military action "within 24 hours".
Kerry will hold talks with Britain's Foreign Secretary, William Hague, this morning. The pair are likely to discuss ways of boosting sections of the Syrian opposition seen as moderates.
But press photos of Kerry and Hague standing shoulder-to-shoulder could prove "awkward" for the Obama administration, says the BBC's diplomatic correspondent James Robbins.
"It [the photograph] will be a vivid reminder to the American people that Britain's foreign secretary represents an ally - and a government - defeated by its Parliament over Syria, which hardly helps Mr Kerry's president as he appeals to lawmakers in Congress not to follow that path," says Robbins.
The BBC's North America Editor Mark Mardell says the push to win the Congress vote on Syria may "break" the US president. "The next few days will see Mr Obama stripped, all the flaws of his presidency on display, all the strengths of his personality strained to their limit," writes Mardell. "His dazzling way with words, his skill as an orator, is beyond doubt. But recently his words have lost a little of their ability to glamour the listener. The magic has faded with repetition. In some, familiarity has bred contempt."
Listening to Obama at the G20 summit in St Petersburg, says Mardell, it was "not always clear that he has persuaded himself" on the merits of an intervention in Syria. As a result, "this all looks like a mess heading for a political disaster."
There are signs that some members of Obama's party are looking at ways to stop their president suffering a similar humiliation to the one suffered by David Cameron when the Commons voted down a motion paving the way for an intervention. Jim McGovern, a congressman from Massachusetts, told CNN the president should withdraw his request for a vote before it is defeated, saying there was insufficient support for it in Congress.
There are no signs that the White House's determination to intervene in Syria is wavering. But speculation about the possibility that the administration might delay a vote surfaced yesterday when Kerry did not rule out returning to the United Nations Security Council to secure a Syria resolution, says Reuters.
Here is a round-up of other key developments:
Assad insists West has no "proof" of chemical weapons President Bashar al-Assad has told a US broadcaster that the White House and its allies have no proof his government has used chemical weapons. The Syrian leader also told PBS that his allies would "retaliate" if his regime came under attack.
"There has been no evidence that I used chemical weapons against my own people," Assad told the network. He refused to confirm or deny whether his government had access to chemical weapons, but said if they did exist they were "in centralised control".
Sections of Syrian opposition fear a US attack The Guardian says Syria's "mainstream rebels" are enthusiastic about the prospect of a US intervention, but those affiliated to al-Qaeda have a very different attitude. They are convinced "an old foe" is coming their way.
"There are many among us [who] fought in Iraq and Afghanistan," a 26-year-old Saudi jihadist told the paper. "Our emir knows how to deal with them. And all know that while the Americans say they want to attack the regime, we are their real enemy." ·