President Obama on Thursday expressed optimism that Secretary of State John Kerry would be able to broker a solution with his Russian counterpart to force Syrian strongman Bashar Assad to give up his stockpile of chemical weapons.
"I am hopeful that the discussions that Secretary Kerry has with Foreign Minister Lavrov as well as some of the other players in this can yield a concrete result,” Obama told reporters ahead of a Cabinet meeting at the White House.
“I know that he is going to be working very hard over the next several days over the possibilities there,” Obama added.
Kerry is slated to begin discussions with Russia in Geneva, Switzerland, on Thursday on a proposal to have Syria turn over control of its chemical arsenal to the international community.
The White House is looking for a diplomatic solution to avoid a military strike on Syria after Assad crossed Obama’s “red line” and used chemical weapons in his country’s civil war. The president is pressing lawmakers to back a strike, but his calls have weak support in Congress and are opposed by a majority of the public according to polls.
Kerry is seeking assurances from Russia, a longtime ally of Syria’s regime, that their promise to help disarm Assad’s chemical weapons is more than a stalling technique to delay military action.
In an address to the nation Tuesday, Obama held out the threat of striking Syria if negotiations falter, but the White House has declined to specify a timetable for talks.
The high-profile meeting in Geneva comes after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned Americans about the dangers of military intervention in Syria in an op-ed in the New York Times that incensed both Republicans and Democrats in Washington.
“It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it,” Putin wrote. “Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan ‘you’re either with us or against us.’”
Obama did not respond to questions from reporters about his reaction to Putin’s op-ed.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the Kremlin was serious about finding a solution to the Syrian standoff with the U.S.
"Undoubtedly, it's necessary to make sure that Syria joins the convention on prohibition of chemical weapons, which would envisage Syria declaring the locations of its chemical weapons depots, its chemical weapons program," said Lavrov, ahead of flying to Switzerland.