White House Shifts Syria Proposal From Strike To Weapons Surrender

President Obama is scheduled to address the nation on Tuesday night about the situation in Syria and the U.S. role in the face of a chemical attack. So far, he's made little headway persuading the American people and Congress that the U.S. needs to act.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

President Obama speaks to the nation tonight about the situation in Syria. The speech will start at 9 P.M. Eastern and it's expected to last just 10 to 15 minutes. The president had planned to explain why he's asking Congress to authorize the use of military force against the Syrian regime. But today, that message changed, or at least it got more complicated. The administration will work with allies in the U.N. to build on a new Russian proposal that Syria surrender its chemical weapons and avoid a U.S. strike.

NPR's Mara Liasson joins us to discuss the latest developments. And, Mara, what do you expect to hear from President Obama tonight?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, that's a great question since the situation seems to be changing by the hour. But tonight, he's still going to try to explain to the American people why what happened in Syria is a threat to our national security. He will say that the latest proposal is a direct result of pressure form the U.S. threats to use a military strike and he will press Congress to keep the pressure on, to authorize force against Syria as a fallback if the latest diplomatic gambit does not pan out.

And meanwhile, the administration is trying to figure out if that proposal is credible and practical. And a group of senators is rewriting the resolution to give Syria a period of time, maybe 60 days, to give up its weapons or else face military action.

SIEGEL: Well, does the new proposal change the stakes for the president much? He's not asking Congress, tonight at least, to pass a bill that most members and their constituents obviously don't want.

LIASSON: Well maybe for the moment, no. But the stakes are still very high. You know, the whole Syria policy process has been so chaotic and so ad hoc it really has damaged the president's standing with the public. His approval rating on foreign policy are underwater, mostly because he looks like he's making this up as he goes along, which he is.

You know, there's a saying that a drowning man will grasp even at a razor. And even though the Russian proposal is seen as a potential political lifeline that might get the Congress out of a difficult vote and get the president out of what looked like was going to be a crushing loss in Congress right now, it does come at a high cost. President Obama has lost the public on this, which is a great irony since he was elected in large part because he offered a way out of just this kind of military intervention.

So tonight, he has to try to do something he's been unable to do so far, which is convince Americans that there is a U.S. national security interest in Syria. And, you know, he hasn't talked much about that but he has given some thought to the situation these confronted with now. And I think it's worth listening to these words from President Obama when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in December of 2009.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED SPEECH)

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: More and more, we all confront difficult questions about how to prevent the slaughter of civilians by their own government, or to stop a civil war whose violence and suffering can engulf an entire region. I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later.

LIASSON: So, a warlike speech for peace prize winner and I'll be listening for echoes of that tonight.

SIEGEL: OK. That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you, Robert.

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