WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama conditionally endorsed a Russian offer for international inspectors to seize and destroy deadly chemical weapons in Syria as efforts to avert retaliatory U.S. missile strikes shift from Washington to the United Nations.
In a nationally televised address Tuesday night, Obama offered a rationale for greater U.S. intervention in a sectarian civil war that has dragged on for more than two years even while acknowledging that winning the hearts and minds of Americans to back another Mideast conflict remains a struggle.
The continued erosion of support in Congress for military strikes — and the resistance among the American people — underscored Obama’s challenge. The president said he had asked congressional leaders to delay a vote on a resolution authorizing limited military strikes, a step that gives the Russian offer crucial time to work and avoids a potentially debilitating defeat for Obama, at least for the time being.
Speaking from the East Room of the White House, Obama recalled the use of deadly chemical weapons in the European trenches of World War I and the Nazi gas chambers of World War II in insisting that the international community could not stand by after an attack in the suburbs of Damascus last month the administration says killed more than 1,400 civilians, including at least 400 children. The Obama administration blames the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
“If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons,” Obama said. “As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas” and using it.
UN talks begin on controlling Syria’s chemical arms
PARIS (AP) — Tense negotiations have begun on a proposed U.N. resolution that would put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and end a diplomatic stalemate over a deadly Aug. 21 poison gas attack, a French official said Wednesday.
The plan for Syria to relinquish its chemical weapons, initiated by Russia, appeared to ease the crisis over looming Western strikes against Bashar Assad’s regime in Damascus, only to open up new potential for impasse as Moscow rejected U.S. and French demands for a binding U.N. resolution with “very severe consequences” for non-compliance.
The French official close to the president, who spoke on condition of anonymity because negotiations remained sensitive, said Russia objected not only to making the resolution militarily enforceable, but also to blaming the Aug. 21 attack on the Syrian government and demanding that those responsible be taken before an international criminal court.
Wary of falling into what the French foreign minister called “a trap,” Paris and Washington are pushing for a U.N. Security Council resolution to verify Syria’s disarmament. Russia, a close ally of Syrian leader Bashar Assad and the regime’s chief patron on the international stage, dismissed France’s proposal on Tuesday.
The diplomatic maneuvering threatened growing momentum toward a plan that would allow President Barack Obama to back away from military action. Domestic support for a strike is uncertain in the United States, even as Obama seeks congressional backing for action — and there has been little international appetite to join forces against Assad.
Libya: Blast hits Foreign Ministry building in Benghazi
TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — Security officials say a powerful explosion has caused serious damage to Libya’s Foreign Ministry building in the heart of the coastal city of Benghazi.
The early Wednesday morning blast also damaged the building next door housing the Benghazi branch of the Libyan Central Bank.
The officials said several passers-by were slightly injured by the blast, which blew out windows in nearby buildings. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
The blast came exactly one year after al-Qaida-linked militants stormed the U.S. Consulate in the eastern city of Benghazi, killing the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Both Wednesday’s bombing and last year’s attack on the American consulate took place on the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
How the US surveillance machine grew too big for NSA
WASHINGTON (AP) — The surveillance machine grew too big for anyone to understand.
The National Security Agency set it in motion in 2006 and the vast network of supercomputers, switches and wiretaps began gathering Americans’ phone and Internet records by the millions, looking for signs of terrorism.
But every day, NSA analysts snooped on more American phone records than they were allowed to. Some officials searched databases of phone records without even realizing it. Others shared the results of their searches with people who weren’t authorized to see them.
It took nearly three years before the government figured out that so much had gone wrong. It took even longer to figure out why.
Two Colo. lawmakers ousted in gun control recalls promoted by activists, NRA
DENVER (AP) — Two Democratic state lawmakers who backed tighter gun laws in the aftermath of mass shootings have been kicked out of office in a recall election promoted by both grassroots activists and the National Rifle Association.
Senate President John Morse lost by just 343 votes Tuesday in a swing district in the Republican stronghold of Colorado Springs but Sen. Angela Giron lost by a bigger margin in a largely blue-collar district that favors Democrats.
The NRA said the election sent a clear message to lawmakers that they should protect gun rights and be accountable to their constituents, not to “anti-gun billionaires” — a swipe against New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supported Giron and Morse.
Democrats will still maintain control of the state Legislature and the laws are expected to remain in place.
“The loss of this senate seat is purely symbolic,” Morse said.
De Blasio finishes 1st in NYC mayoral race, may face runoff
NEW YORK (AP) — Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, who ran an upstart campaign pledging to fight New York City’s economic inequality, emerged as the surprising top choice in the Democratic mayoral primary, but could still face weeks — and another electoral fight — before becoming his party’s nominee.
The swirling, chaotic campaign to replace Mayor Michael Bloomberg, which featured Anthony Weiner’s latest sexting scandal and at least three lead changes in the polls, was fittingly plunged into uncertainty again after the Tuesday primary bled into early Wednesday.
With 97 percent of precincts reporting, de Blasio had about 40.2 percent of the total vote, which puts him a whisker above the 40 percent threshold needed to avoid triggering an automatic Oct. 1 runoff. If he cannot maintain that, he will face former city Comptroller Bill Thompson, who has 26 percent, for a potentially grueling three-week, one-on-one showdown, with the winner advancing to face Republican nominee Joe Lhota.
in the general election.
But it may take a week or more before it is known whether that battle will be fought at all.
The campaign will take a pause Wednesday as the city stops to observe the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Later this week, election officials will recount all the ballots cast Tuesday. It will likely take until early next week before they tabulate an additional 30,000 or more votes as absentee ballots arrive by mail and paperwork comes in from voters who had problems at the polls.