WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama said a Russian plan to head off threatened US strikes on Syria by securing a deal to destroy the regime's chemical weapons could be a "significant breakthrough."
Obama warned Monday he had not taken military strikes off the table but, in agreeing to consider the Russian initiative, he effectively pushed back the timetable for possible action.
The US leader had intended to spend the day selling his plan to launch punitive military strikes against Bashar al-Assad's regime to sceptical American voters and lawmakers.
Instead, he found himself responding to a surprise Russian diplomatic initiative which would see Assad's stockpile of banned chemical arms taken under international control.
Obama, who faces a tough task winning Congressional approval for even a limited military action, admitted that US lawmakers were not close to voting on the issue.
"I don't anticipate that you would see a succession of votes this week or anytime in the immediate future," he told ABC news.
And, in a series of television interviews, he insisted it had only come about because Assad and his allies in Moscow could see the United States was serious about using force.