Nightly News   |  September 09, 2013

Kerry offers a way for Syria to avoid strikes

Secretary of State John Kerry said Syria could avoid a strike by turning over all of its chemical weapons to the international community in a week. Could his off-handed comment change the administration’s course?  NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports.

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>>> let's take a closer look now at the remark by secretary of oh state kerry that got the immediate attention of russia , syria and the rest of the world and could be part of a solution to avoid the military strike against syria . our chief foreign affairs correspondent andrea mitchell back in the td.c. newsroom after an overseas trip with secretary kerry . good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. kerry and the russian foreign minister have discussed the idea of putting syria 's chemical weapons under international control in the past. but kerry 's comment today wasn't a formal proposal. but the russians, perhaps seek seeking a way out of the crisis, jumped on it. it started with the answer by john kerry in london when asked if there were anything assad could do to prevent a u.s. strike.

>> sure. he could turn over every bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. turn it over. all of it. without delay.

>> reporter: russia , perhaps seeking a way out, chose to take him seriously. only three hours later in moscow, foreign minister sergei lavrov said if the establishment of international control over chemical weapons makes it possible to avoid strikes then we will immediately get to work with damascus. syria 's foreign minister in moscow said his government welcomes the russian initiative. flying home from london, kerry got on the phone with the russian minister saying it was an offhand remark not an official proposal and the u.s. is skeptical it could work. syria 's chemical weapons are hidden all over the country and how would inspectors get into a war zone to even verify they were contained. kerry said they won't play games and won't delay seeking a vote in congress but will talk if russia and syria are serious. the white house chimed in.

>> it is clear this proposal comes in the context of the threat of u.s. action and the pressure that the president is exerting.

>> reporter: kerry also said it is assad , his brother a top commander and one general who control all of the chemical weapons . in an interview with charlie rose airing today, assad was in complete denial that the chemical attack even happened.

>> how can you talk about what happened if you don't have evidence.

>> the attacks against american base s in the middle east , if there is an air strike ?

>> you should expect everything. you should expect everything.

>> reporter: escalating his unprecedented campaign with congress, the president deployed an army of advocates.

>> only the syrian re jet stream has the capacity to deliver chemical weapons on a scale to cause the devastation we saw in damascus.

>> reporter: even enlisting hillary clinton who met with the president on syria today.

>> now, if the regime immediately surrendered its stock piles to international control, as was suggested by secretary kerry and the russians that would be an important step.

>> reporter: tonight the president spent an hour trying to persuade members of the congressional black caucus , out spoken opponents of air strikes . now kelly o'donnell reports senator harry reid has postponed thursday's senate vote because of the russian proposal, brian.

>> andrea mitchell back in washington tonight. thanks.

>>> before we move on, a reminder. nbc news will have live coverage of the president's address to the nation tomorrow night right here at 9:00 eastern, 6:00 p.m . pacific.