President Barack Obama says he long resisted calls for military action in Syria but that the situation changed after Syria's government gassed its own citizens.
But in the wake of Syria's announcement preceding his televised address Tuesday that they are willing to agree to a Russian proposal to turn over their chemical weapons, the president said he has asked members of Congress to postpone their vote on the use of force.
"Over the last few days, we've seen some encouraging signs," Obama said in his address to the nation Tuesday night. "It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed...[it] has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force."
But, Obama said, the military has been ordered to "be in a position to respond," if diplomacy fails.
Prior to Syria's surprise gesture of conciliation, Obama's remarks were expected to be aimed at garnering support for military action. He still hit those bullet points Tuesday night, explaining that he saw both a moral imperative for action as well as a threat to national security.
"If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons," the president said. "Over time our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield."
Obama said no one disputes that chemical weapons were used in an attack on Aug. 21, and said thousands of Syrians have died from them. He said the images and videos of men, women and children are sickening and demand a response.
"When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory," the president said.
Chemical weapons could also fall into the hands of terrorists, and a failure to act could embolden other countries, particularly Iran, to continue developing their nuclear weapons capabilities, he went on.
If the U.S. were to take military action, Obama promised it would be a narrow and focused attack that would not put "boots on the ground."
"This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective, deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad's capabilities," he said.
But now with the possibility of diplomacy, the president has pressed pause on plans for a military strike and is focusing over the coming days on a peaceful resolution. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to meet with his Russian counterpart later this week, in hopes of drawing up a timeline for Syria to turn over their stockpile of chemical weapons. According to CNN, if a deal is reached, it will move on to the United Nations next.