Nightly News   |  September 15, 2013

Debate over diplomatic Syria deal ignites

Some see it as a win, but others fear it gives Russia too much power. NBC’s Kristen Welker reports.

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>>> now to the crisis in syria , as reaction to this weekend's agreement between the u.s. and russia to remove syria 's chemical weapons heated up today. nbc's kristen welker is at the white house with more for us. kristen?

>> reporter: lester, good evening. today lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were skeptical about whether syria waste president bashar al assad will cooperate, and president obama defended what he said is an important first step and could eventually lead to a political settlement of the bloody civil war . this morning heated debate about the diplomatic deal which calls on syria to turn over all of its chemical weapons by the middle of next year.

>> i think it's a loser, because i think it gave russia a position in the middle east which they haven't had since 1970 .

>> i think this agreement is a very positive step.

>> we have been remiss. we have announced that we're doing something, but what we have done certainly have not been at the pace that should it be.

>> this progress would not have been achieved without the threat of the use of a military strike by president obama .

>> reporter: in an interview taped friday before news of the deal, president obama argued the progress is significant.

>> the distance that we've traveled over these couple of weeks is remarkable.

>> reporter: and while some say the agreement emboldens russia --

>> this is a russian plan for russian interests.

>> reporter: president obama tried to downplay the notion that this is a win for america's historic geopolitical foe.

>> this is not the cold war . this is not a contest between the united states and russia .

>> reporter: and mr. obama brushed aside the mounting criticism that his syria policy has been inept.

>> i'm less concerned about style points. i'm much more concerned about getting the policy right.

>> reporter: meanwhile overseas, secretary kerry thought to build up support among america's allies who have expressed skepticism, meeting first with israel's prime minister. kerry reassuring syria 's neighbor the u.s. is prepared to act if assad doesn't comply.

>> now, this will only be as effective as its implementation will be. and president obama has made it clear that to accomplish that, the threat of force remains.

>> reporter: for his part, president obama issued a stern warning to iran. developing nuclear weapons is a far bigger issue to the united states than chemical weapons .

>> my suspicion is that the iranians recognize they shouldn't draw a lesson that we haven't struck to think we won't strike iran.

>> reporter: assad's first test comes in a week. that is when he is scheduled to release a full accounting of his entire chemical weapons stockpile. lesser?