Immediately after Syria announced it had accepted a Russian proposal to hand over its chemical weapons to international control, a group of senators began working on an alternative resolution that would only grant authorization for a military strike if the Assad regime failed to follow through on the plan.
The plan may proved something of an escape hatch for the White House, facing questions of credibility as it struggled to gather domestic and international support for its plan to strike, and members of Congress, staring down a public vehemently opposed to strikes.
The new plan would call on the United Nations to pass a resolution asserting the Assad regime had used chemical weapons in the ongoing civil war, and require a UN team to remove all chemical weapons from Syria within a given time frame.
It would also provide authority for President Obama to order military force if the weapons are not removed within the timeframe.
Senators from both sides of the aisle, including Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and Democrats Chuck Schumer of New York, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Chris Coons of Delaware, Carl Levin of Michigan and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, came together to write the new legislation.
The White House said Tuesday morning the president had spoken with both British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Hollande and had agreed to discussions at the UN, to "work closely together with Russia and China to explore the viability of the Russian proposal."
For many members of Congress feeling squeezed between pressure from the White House's efforts to get military authorization and opposition from consitutents, Russia's proposal brings a measure of relief.
Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., tweeted that we "shouldn't turn our backs on" a realistic chance to find a diplomatic solution.
If there is a realistic chance -- and I hope there is -- to secure Syria's chemical weapons, we shouldn't turn our backs on that chance.— Senator Harry Reid (@SenatorReid) September 10, 2013
But Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Armed Services Committee that he was not withdrawing the administration's request for military authorization, despite Obama's move toward a UN discussion.
Kerry said the United States must keep the threat of a military strike on the table in order to put teeth into any potential international resolution.
"It's the credible threat of force that has been on the table for the last few weeks that has brought this regime for the first time to even acknowledge it has chemical weapons," Kerry said. "We have to continue to show Syria, Russia and the world that we are not going to fall for delay tactics."
Much of the skeptisicm comes from Russia's behavior on the UN Security Council, where it has frequently vetoed any effort to intervene in Syria.
And even as the international community recacted with measured optimism over the apparent movement in what had become something of a standoff on the world stage, some analysts expressed concern that the plan, as it now stands, would only serve to embolden Bashar al-Assad.
The Brookings Institution's Michael Doran, who served on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, said Obama was "likely grateful to have found a diplomatic path, even if it is a sham."
"Assad will never under any condition truly relinquish his [chemical weapons]," Doran tweeted. "He is a proven liar on issues like this. Putin recognizing that Obama had boxed himself in, provided him with an excuse to leave the battlefield [with] honor."
The coalition of Syria's rebels, the Syria National Council, held a press conference after Assad's regime had accepted a Russia's proposal. They said the moves were tantamount to amandonment from the international community, even after Assad defied international norms in using chemical weapons.
"We call on the international community and on the forefront, the United Nations to hold this regime accountable for what it did which is a crime against humanity," the said. "As of the Russian initiative, we think it is a ploy to gain time to change the rules of the games a little bit longer."
"We need an answer from the international community for what’s happening to the Syrian people. The only way for serious negotiations is by stopping this killing machine that regime has committed for 2 years and a half. There are so many crimes some committed by knives, burning its people alive and ending with using chemical weapons. Holding those responsible for killing the Syrian people will NOT be up for negotiations."