WHITE HOUSE — U.S. President Barack Obama says a negotiated diplomatic solution on Syria is still possible as long as it produces a verifiable and enforceable way to deal with Syrian chemical weapons. Mr. Obama spoke on the eve of a televised address Tuesday to the American people.
The president gave interviews to major television networks as he prepares to appeal directly to the public about his plans for a limited military strike to degrade the chemical weapons capabilities of Syria's government.
On the Public Broadcasting Service NewsHour, Mr. Obama said again there is no doubt about Syrian government responsibility for the August 21 chemical attack that the U.S. and its allies say killed at least 1,400 people.
But he said a Russian proposal for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons stockpiles to the international community offers some hope of heading off the need for military action.
"I have instructed [Secretary of State] John Kerry to talk directly to the Russians and run this to ground, and if we can exhaust these diplomatic efforts and come up with a formula that gives the international community a verifiable, enforceable mechanism to deal with these chemical weapons in Syria, then I am all for it, but we are going to have to see specifics," Mr. Obama said.
Despite intense personal lobbying, Mr. Obama still faces an uphill battle convincing lawmakers and their constituents that military action would not entangle the U.S. in the Syrian civil war or a wider regional conflict.
Americans are horrified by the chemical attack in Syria, but polls show strong national sentiment against a military strike.
Mr. Obama said Americans are understandably wary about military action "in the absence of some direct threat" against the United States, especially after U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But he told PBS he will use his address on Tuesday to make the case that action is necessary for long-term U.S. national security interests.
"But I believe I can make a very strong case to Congress as well as the American people about why we can't leave our children a world in which other children are being subjected to nerve gas," he said. "And that it is in our interest, if we can take a limited step that makes a meaningful difference, it is worth it for us to do that. And I firmly believe that."
In an interview with ABC News, Mr. Obama called the diplomatic proposal a "modestly positive development," but said it is important to maintain pressure. He said he wants to see "with a sense of urgency" language for a plan that is enforceable and verifiable.
Earlier, National Security Adviser Susan Rice said failure to respond would undermine U.S. credibility and embolden others such as Iran and North Korea.
"The decision our nation makes in the coming days is being watched in capitals around the world, especially in Tehran and Pyongyang," she said. "They're watching to see whether the United States will stand up for the world we're trying to build for our children and future generations."
President Obama received support Monday from former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who referred to the Russian proposal for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to international control.
"As was suggested by Secretary Kerry and the Russians, that would be an important step," she said. " But this cannot be another excuse for delay or obstruction, and Russia has to support the international community's efforts sincerely, or be held to account."
Deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken says the United States is "taking a hard look" at the diplomatic proposal.
"We are going to take a hard look at this, we will talk to the Russians about it, but it is very important to note that it is clear that this proposal comes in the context of the threat of U.S. action and the pressure that the president is exerting," he said.
The White House says it will continue to seek congressional authorization, even while reviewing the diplomatic proposal for Syria to give up control of its chemical weapons.
President Obama dropped in to a briefing at the White House for House of Representatives lawmakers, and is scheduled to go to Capitol Hill Tuesday to make another direct appeal to skeptical lawmakers.