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September 9th, 2013
11:33 PM ET

Sen. Isakson changes vote to no on Syria strike, now supports Russia proposal 'if it's for real'

Republican Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia announced Monday evening that he would vote against authorizing a military strike against Syria over alleged chemical weapons use.

Yet on the same day President Barack Obama announced he would seek congressional authorization for a strike against Syria, Isakson released a statement saying, "I support the use of military action in Syria. If we fail to take strong action against Syria for the horrendous attack then we are sending a signal to Syria as well as to Iran and North Korea that they are accountable to no one."

"This is about the plan and the strategy that's been proposed to us, this is not about the issue of should we hold people accountable," Isakson said in an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper.

The Georgia senator said the U.S. deliberating military action has made an impression on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, evidenced by Syria's response to an off-hand comment by Secretary of State John Kerry.

"There are talks of Syria surrendering their weapons of mass destruction, and their nerve gas. So it's having a positive effect, and they know the line there," said Isakson.

When asked Monday what al-Assad could do to stop a U.S. strike, Kerry said that the Syrian leader "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 for that."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded, saying that his country will urge Syria to put its chemical arsenal under international control if doing so would avert U.S. military action. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem said his country welcomes Russia's proposal, but it was not immediately clear whether Syria would accept the plan.

In an interview with CNN Monday afternoon, Obama said Russia's proposal to have Syria hand its chemical arsenal over to international control could avert U.S. strikes "if it's real."

Isakson echoed the president, saying he would also support such a plan "if it's for real," calling it "a positive move forward."

Following Russia's proposal, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid delayed a Syria vote that was supposed to take place Wednesday. An aide said the Russia proposal is serious and fluid enough that members do not want to lock themselves into a position on Syria just yet.

"If you're the leader, and you hold the agenda, if you pull the vote, it's generally because you don't have the votes," said Isakson.

Indeed, when asked about his chances of convincing Congress to approve a limited strike against Syria, Obama told NBC, "I wouldn't say I'm confident."

"Never seen an issue before where more of the rank and file were so consistently in opposition. And if you boil it all down, they don't worry about day one when the strike takes place; they worry about day two, day three, and day four," said Isakson.

"There have been statements from the administration, but no clear strategy, and I think that uncertainty ... is the big problem for the administration," said Isakson.

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