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Editorial: US needs to push for diplomatic solution in Syria

Sep. 12, 2013 @ 08:16 AM

Most Americans breathed a sigh of relief this week, as the United States began to explore diplomatic solutions to the problem of Syria's apparent stockpile of chemical weapons.

President Barack Obama spent much of last week recommending U.S. airstrikes to respond to the deaths of 1,400 people, including at least 400 children, in a suspected sarin gas attack on Aug. 21 in Damascus. But he found little support at home or abroad.

Only 36 percent of Americans favor military attacks, according a recent Gallup Poll, and only 22 senators and 22 House members -- out of 533 lawmakers -- were willing to support the use of force, according to a USA TODAY survey Monday.

Tuesday night, the president in a prime-time televised speech endorsed an emerging plan to have international inspectors seize the weapons and ultimately eliminate them. Russia, a patron of Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, has pledged to work to that end, and Syria's foreign minister has indicated his country would comply.

Congress will delay any vote to authorize military strikes to give the diplomatic effort a chance to succeed.

In a week where the anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks and the uncertainly of the Middle East is on the nation's mind, that is good news.

But there are many hurdles still to cross to reach an agreement, and beyond that the question of whether Syria actually will comply. Tuesday night, the president stressed that the U.S. military will be ready, should force be needed.

It makes sense for Congress to continue to consider how and when to make that decision.

For example, West Virginia's Sen. Joe Manchin and North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitcamp have proposed a joint resolution that would give Syria 45 days to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, the international agreement among 191 nations that prohibits development, possession or use of these weapons.

That would provide time to gather more information about what actually happened in Damascus last month and to build a consensus with the United Nations Security Council to collect and destroy any stockpiled weapons under international control.

These senseless deaths and the ongoing civil war in Syria are certainly tragic, but the United States needs to pick its shots at playing "policeman to the world." If the administration can build international pressure on Syria and avoid "going it alone," that is the much better path.

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