Thomas Roberts | September 10, 2013
>>> we're waiting for that proposal but we're not waiting for long. a lot of people say that nothing focus the mind like the prospect of a hanging. it's the credible threat of force that has been on the table for these last weeks that has for the first time brought this regime to even acknowledge they have a chemical arsenal.
>> laying out a hard line from the administration after word of a possible deal that could bring the u.s. back from the brink of a possible strike on syria . hi, everybody, good morning. breaking news, with the ap reporting that the president has accepted the proposal for syria to give up its commhemical weapons arsenal. the president will speak to the american people tonight at 9:00 p.m . and he's got a lot of ground to cover with this.
>> he will go forward tonight and make the case to the american people as well as to congress as he has been that what happened on august 21st was a chemical weapons attack with tear acrrible consequences. that it is undeniable. the responsibility for that attack rests with the assad regime.
>> the president sat down for six network tv interviews, including nbc . the president expressing cautious optimism.
>> this represents a positive development. we're going to run this to ground. we're going to see how serious these proposals are.
>> does this feel like a ploy?
>> this potentially could be a breakthrough. we've not seen how they operate over the last couple of years.
>> the president's red line was crossed by an august chemical weapons attack against civilians in damascus but the red line the american people might be any american involvement period. and new nbc news " wall street journal " poll showing the majority of americans disapprove of the president's handling of the syria situation and that nearly 60% do not want members of congress to vote to authorize a strike. with syria signaling a willingness to give up its stockpile, the senate has delayed a vote on whether to give up use force.
>> i'm very skeptical. we should be since bashar assad has refused to acknowledge he even has chemical weapons .
>> joining me now from washington, nbc news correspondent kear simmons. pe peter, let's start with the white house and how exactly they are responding to the ap report. do we have could be fir mation?
>> we have confirmed that. we're getting new information even as you are introducing the segment. i want to read to you a statement i'm getting from a white house official, if i can quickly are saying the president spoke separately with the french president hollande as well as with french prime minister cameron today. they agreed to work closely together and in consultation with russia and with china to explore seriously. the note goes on to say the viability of the russian proposal to put all the weapons and related materials fully under international control in order to enforce -- in order to assure they're very fireable and enforceable destruction. will include a discussion on elements of a potential u.n. security council resolution. the white house now agreeing that it will try to pursue this as best it can in hopes that syria is serious in what it is offering as well as russia and they're going to play this out a little further. at the same time, you can expect the president to communicate to the american people there is the need for military action to be taken against syria , to ask for american support for that, and he'll very likely say that his calls for military action to this point have succeeded, that they're working, and that's why we're in this position.
>> okay, let's speak about that new information. because not only is syria willing to hand over its weapons stockpiles, it's actually confirming it has any to begin with. which we haven't been able to confirm in the past.
>> that's what the white house is seizing on today. in conversations i had with the white house press secretary , sort of echoing some of the points the president had in his conversations with network anchors. he communicated that it's only the creditable threat of military force that brought syria to this place. where in the words of jay carney , acknowledged for the first time they have chemical weapons . you could say this is a life raft for the white house . it's a way out of the situation where it became increasingly clear they were not going to get congressional support for a call for military action .
>> peter alex ander at the white house , thank you. we're going to turn now to the wake of this russian plan. a gap of senators working as we speak on an alternative resolution to teal with syria 's use of chemical weapons . bob casey of pennsylvania is part of that group. sir, it's good to have you with us. you're part of this group that's coming up with a new resolution. we're hearing that the new resolution will replace the one that was authorizing force that came from the senate foreign relations committee last week. what can you tell us about it? also what is your reaction to hearing about this plan? the proposition of syria handing over its stockpile of chemical weapons to russia ?
>> thomas, let me say first, when i heard the news yesterday, i was skeptical. the two players in this, both the regime in syria and the russian federation , tonigdon't have a lot of credibility when it comes to this incident, the indiscriminate use of chemical weapons against hundreds and hundreds of syrians and over 400 children. so my skepticism, i agree with what john mccain said in your piece earlier, that's number one. number two, we did have good discussions, though, yesterday in the senate, bipartisan group talking about this. but it's in the early stages. we're having good discussions. my hope, i speak only for myself on this, i'm not speaking for any group, but my hope is we can come up with a resolution that would still have the use of force in it, which i support, but would also make it very clear that if the syrian regime were to meet a series of very specific goals here, and meet them in a very ex- ppeditious and very short time frame , then maybe that could be the breakthrough that we need that would not require the use of force . we have a long way to go on this. i'm still, still skeptical.
>> the u.n. secretary-general ban ki-moon warned yesterday of doing anything in reference to a military strike until they have concluded their investigation, saying anything would be premature. doesn't that -- doesn't that mean anything to what's going on in the process in washington, d.c. right now, especially if syria is looking at this russian proposal and this more international proposal from the u.n. as well, saying yesterday it would encourage this type of move. doesn't this signal that we are maybe moving too quickly?
>> certainly, think we should consider this proposal. this administration has epbraced it as an idea that is worthy of some work. but on a separate track, we have to get back to the main issue here, which is i think irrefutable evidence that this happened, that the syrian regime was responsible, and i think the certainty of of that evidence, plus the gravity of the crime, compels us to keep moving in the direction of getting authorization for the use of force . that doesn't foreclose the possibility of having a breakthrough here. but let's not kid ourselves. this happened. it was the regime that did it. they must pay a price for this. unless we put -- unless we want to put our own troops in the region at risk and put our larger national security at risk because of the bad message this would send of weakness, i would argue, to both the iranian regime and give a green light to iran and hezbollah to continue two things. their daily commitment to terrorism against us and, secondly, the iran nuclear capability. it would give, unfortunately, a bad message to both.
>> as we speak, secretaries kerry and haggle, they're testifying for military action . you said it truly is within the u.s. national security interest to respond to the chemical attack . and as you reference this, the gravity of the crime that took place in damascus , so your first strike, no matter what. so if they turn over these stockpiles of weapons and the u.n. overseas their safeguarding as well as their destruction, you still want a plan to attack syria ?
>> i think if this happened and they were able to turn over those stockpiles and verified and we had confidence what was promised was actually delivered. it's kind of a -- to use street language, put up or shut up. it's really wiabout what when it comes to syria and russia . if they can prove this and get it done in a short time frame , i think that changes the approach many of us would take. because the threat, the ongoing use of chemical weapons , would be -- would be removed.
>> what's the consequence for the gravity of the crime? what should be the consequence for the gravity of the crime if they're able to avoid --
>> that's why we're having this discussion now. that's why you have a national debate about whether we should use force. i said from the beginning that you can't simply con depp somethi condemn something. you have to condemn it and back it up with action.
>> no matter what, you're for a military strike . even if they go ahead and they give up their chemical weapons stockpile over to russia and they're safeguarded and then destroyed properly, you still want to see a military strike against syria ?
>> ive iv've been very clear if nothing changed, i think a strike makes sense for our national security interest without a doubt. this proposal could change that determination that i make and that others make. we have to see -- we have to see what the syrians and the russians do. it's really all in their court. they're either going to deliver on this and do it completely and thorough thoroughly, a very short time frame , or not. and any failure to deliver keep us on the track of focusing on making them pay the price for this attack.
>> we're going to wait to see exactly what they do. we're going to get back to work. senator, thank you. we want to go now to moscow where it appears russia is leading the charge, the effort to find a diplomatic solution here. i understand you just spoke with russia 's foreign minister, so break down the time line . so many people are depending on russia to be an honest broker in all of this.
>> yes, people are. in fact, thomas, i just spoke to syria 's foreign minister who is here in moscow, and as i understand it, he was just heading back to syria , to damascus . he's been here during the negotiations, the talks with the russians over the last few days. and i want to quote him exactly, because it is so important. waleed all walum tol me they accept the russian proposal, ready to fulfill it according to the agreed plan between us and russia . now, i pressed him on exactly what that plan meant, and he talked about u.n. procedures for doing something like this. but i think one of the issues is we don't know what the agreed plan is between the syrians and the russians who are in an alliance together. the syrian foreign minister then went on in the same interview to tell me about his concerns about what he said were words of war emanating from the west. he was speaking exclusively to nbc news. even while saying, i accept this proposal to put chemical weapons under the international control, appearing to begin to criticize the west again.
>> thanks so much. keep us