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Congress' Syria vote could to be delayed until diplomatic means exhausted

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Obama to speak on Syria

President Barack Obama wants to delay any vote on the use of force in Syria until all diplomatic means on the nation's chemical weapons are exhausted, POLITICO reports.

The move comes just more than a week after the president announced that he had decided to strike Syria militarily but would seek Congressional approval to do so.

Moments after POLITICO's report, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem said his country will declare its chemical weapons arsenal, and sign the chemical weapons convention.

While Obama made his case in person on Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a congressional hearing there was still a clear need to support the president's call for legislation authorizing a military strike.

"For this diplomatic option to have a chance at succeeding, the threat of a U.S. military action, the credible, real threat of U.S. military action, must continue," Hagel said.

At the same hearing, Secretary of State John Kerry said any diplomacy "cannot be a process of delay. This cannot be a process of avoidance."

He later added that any agreement must include binding consequences if Syria fails to comply, and lawmakers moved quickly to rewrite pending legislation along the same lines.

Obama himself "wasn't overly optimistic about" prospects for a solution at the U.N., said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, after his party's rank and file met privately for lunch in the Capitol with the president. He quoted Obama as saying that even if a credible plan could be worked out, it could be difficult to push through the U.N. Security Council.

The president readied his nationwide speech against a unpredictable chain of events stemming from a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21 that the Obama administration swiftly blamed on Assad's government.

U.S. officials say more than 1,400 died in the episode, including at least 400 children, and other victims suffered uncontrollable twitching, foaming at the mouth and other symptoms typical of exposure to chemical weapons banned by international treaty. Other casualty estimates are lower, and Assad has said the attack was launched by rebels who have been fighting to drive him from power in a civil war that has so far claimed the lives of more than 100,000 civilians.

Assad's patron, Russia, has blocked U.S. attempts to rally the Security Council behind a military strike. But Monday, after a remark by Kerry, it spoke favorably about requiring Syria to surrender control of its chemical weapons, and the Syrian foreign minister did likewise.

Walid al-Moallem said Syria is prepared to implement a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons arsenal under international control.

Syria has never provided an accounting of the size of its stockpile, rarely referring in public to its existence. According to an unclassified estimate by the French government, it includes more than 1,000 tons of "chemical agents and precursor chemicals," including sulfur mustard, VX and sarin gas.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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