President Barack Obama Monday called a Russian proposal to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control to avoid U.S. military strikes a “potentially positive development,” that could represent a “significant breakthrough.”
He also said it could put plans for a U.S. attack on hold.
Shortly afterward, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced in the early evening that he would not file for a test vote on a resolution to strike at Syria.
"I'm not going to file cloture this evening on the motion to proceed to the Syria resolution," he said on the Senate floor.
Obama told NBC News in an interview Monday that he remains skeptical that Syria will follow through and turn over its stockpile, so he's taking a statement from Damascus, quote, "with a grain of salt initially." But he says he would prefer to have a diplomatic solution to the crisis rather than launch a military attack, and called it "a potentially positive development."
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“Between the statements that we saw from the Russians — the statement today from the Syrians — this represents a potentially positive development,” Obama said in an interview with NBC News, according to a transcript provided by the network. “We are going to run this to ground. [Secretary of State] John Kerry will be talking to his Russian counterpart. We’re going to make sure that we see how serious these proposals are.”
"Let's see if we can come up with language that avoids a strike but accomplishes our key goals to make sure that these chemical weapons are not used," the president said.
Multiple congressional aides said Monday evening that the Russian move may have just saved Obama from a humbling defeat in the House, Talking Points Memo reported.
"I think this is the out the administration needs, to be honest, because the numbers aren't here in the House," a House Democratic aide told TPM.
The whip counts on a Syria resolution have been increasingly pessimistic for the White House. The consensus from Hill aides, Democrats and Republicans alike, is that the administration must have seen the writing on the wall.
“I think the White House thinks they found a life raft," a House Republican aide concurred to TPM. "It’s not clear yet if they are right about that.”
Obama suggested in another interview with ABC that Syria's willingness to pursue a diplomatic solution could give Congress more time to decide on whether to grant him the authority to strike.
"I don't anticipate that you would see a succession of votes this week or anytime in the immediate future," Obama said. "So I think there will be time during the course of the debates here in the United States for the international community, the Russians and the Syrians to work with us and say is there a way to resolve this."
Kerry suggested earlier Monday that Syria could avoid a potential U.S. air attack by putting its chemical weapons under international control. Syria's ally Russia quickly took the idea to Syria's foreign minister, who said Damascus welcomes the proposal.