By KIRIT RADIA
Syria's Foreign Minister today said his country accepts Russia's plan to secure its chemical weapons as a way to "stave off American aggression."
Russia will soon present the details of the "feasible, clear, and concrete plan" that would also transfer the weapons to international control.
"We are going to announce this plan soon and we will be ready to fine tune and discuss it" with the international community, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
President Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the proposal when they met on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit Friday, according to the Kremlin.
President Obama told ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer Monday that if Syria were to turn over its chemical weapons, it would "absolutely" halt his plans to strike inside Syria.
But he downplayed the Syrian response as only a "modestly positive development" and said there must be verification that Syria has followed through completely to end the threat posed by its formidable chemical weapons arsenal.
"If we can do that without a military strike, that is overwhelmingly my preference," the president said.
Obama said his threat to attack Syria paved the way for this diplomatic opportunity.
"I don't think we would have gotten to this point unless we had maintained a credible possibility for a military strike and I don't think now is the time for us to let up on that," Obama said.
But big questions remain on how such weapons would be secured, who would do it and how to verify that the Syrian government has turned over all the chemical weapons it has previously denied having.
The details of the Russian plan have yet to be made public, though Lavrov Monday called on Syria to accept "storage of chemical weapons under international control, but also its subsequent destruction" and join the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which enforces the Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria has not signed.
Obama is scheduled to address the nation tonight to make his case to a skeptical nation about his plans to strike Syria in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack outside Damascus Aug. 21. The United States says it has evidence that Syrian was behind the attack.
But Russia, Syria's most powerful ally, says it has evidence that the evidence was falsified and that rebel forces were to blame.
In light of the Russian proposal, the White House is reportedly changing what Obama plans to say in his address.
The U.S. State Department Monday said it would take a "hard look" at the Russian proposal, but quickly added it was "skeptical" that Syria would follow through.
The Russian proposal has been widely welcomed by several major powers as an alternative to a U.S. strike, which was also struggling to receive support abroad.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, British Prime Minister David Cameron, the French Foreign Minister and Iran have all expressed their support.
France, the only country to say it would join in a U.S.-led strike, says it will table a resolution at the U.N. Security Council based on the idea.
The Obama administration, however, has been more cautious.
"We'll take a step back, and we'll look at the Russian statement. We'll see what details lie behind it. But at this point, of course, we have serious skepticism because of everything Assad has done in the course of the last several years on chemical weapons," State Department Deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Monday.
Lavrov's overture Monday evening came after Secretary of State John Kerry suggested earlier in the day that if Syria gave up its chemical weapons by the end of the week, an attack could be avoided.
"He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow a full and total accounting," Kerry told reporters during a news conference in London with his British counterpart.
The State Department later walked Kerry's statement back, calling it an off-hand "rhetorical argument."
"His point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons. Otherwise, he would have done so long ago. That's why the world faces this moment," Kerry spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
According to a senior State Department official, Kerry called Lavrov from his plane and, after Lavrov referenced his remarks, saying Russia would be willing to engage in the idea. Kerry denied that they were a formal suggestion by the United States.
He did promise to look at any serious proposal, but expressed his skepticism.
Kerry also told Lavrov the Obama administration any such proposal would not delay its efforts to seek authorization from Congress for a military strike inside Syria.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad explained earlier this week why he had "not yet" signed the Chemical Weapons Convention.
"Because Israel has WMD, and it has to sign, and Israel is occupying our land. So that's why we talked about Middle East, not Syria, not Israel. It should be comprehensive," he told PBS' and CBS News' Charlie Rose in an interview.
Assad denied his forces used chemical weapons in the Aug. 21 attack on a Damascus suburb that the United States says killed more than 1,400 people, including hundreds of children.
He said the United States has been unable to provide "a single shred of evidence" that his forces were responsible for the attack.
The German magazine Bild seemed to give some credence to Assad's claims this weekend, reporting that Syrian government forces might have carried out the chemical weapons attack without Assad's permission.
In response, Kerry argued that Syrian chemical weapons are tightly controlled and that there is "no question about responsibility."
Assad also warned of an unspecified retaliation if the United States and its allies go ahead with the attack.
During their news conference earlier in the day, around the same time that Kerry spoke in London, Lavrov and Muallem presented a united front against U.S. -led calls for intervention in the Syrian conflict.
Lavrov said Moscow was focused on preventing a Western strike, which he warns will only destabilize the region and make a negotiated solution more difficult. He also denied he was working behind the scenes to hammer out a deal.
"There cannot be any deals made with regard to Russian policy that were concluded behind the Syrian people's back. That will not happen," he said.
Russia has remained Syria's strongest ally throughout the conflict. It continues to provide the Assad government with arms and economic support. It has also blocked efforts to pressure Assad in the United Nations Security Council.
Kerry, as he has done for the past week, tried to walk a fine line between sounding a battle cry in Syria and claiming the United States was "not going to war," a reflection of how difficult the Obama administration is finding it to sell an attack on Syria.
When arguing for the need to strike, Kerry compared the chemical weapons attacks to the Holocaust, which killed more than 6 million, and the Rwandan genocide, during which almost 1 million people died in the 1990s.
"If one party believes he can rub out countless numbers of his own citizens with chemical weapons, he will never get to the negotiation table," Kerry argued. "A resolution will never get done on the battlefield. It will be done at the negotiating table. But we have to get to that table."
But at the same time, he also tried to downplay the scope of the U.S. plans, saying an attack was not an act of war.
"We're not talking about war. We are not going to war," Kerry said. "We are going to be able to hold Bashar Assad accountable, in a very limited, very targeted, very short-term effort that degrades his capacity to deliver chemical weapons without assuming responsibility for Syria's Civil War."