WASHINGTON -- House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that Russia's proposed response to violence in Syria -- having the Syrian government put its chemical weapons under international control to avoid U.S. military strikes -- is not a blow to President Barack Obama's push for military action there. To the contrary, it's a huge win for the president.
"I think this is a victory for President Obama, if it is real," Pelosi said at a Capitol Hill press conference.
"It doesn't take the wind out, it validates what the president is doing," she continued. "What the Russians are suggesting -- if it is real, if it is serious -- says that the dynamic has changed. The president has been trying for this, he's been striving to get the Syrian weapons under international control, and now the Russians are suggesting it."
Despite her enthusiasm for the Russian plan, which could offer Obama a way out of his unpopular push for military strikes and give Congress a pass on having a take a tough vote on the matter, Pelosi said it's still too early to tell if the proposal is genuine.
"Could it be a trap? ... We can't have rope-a-dope," she said. "If this is just to prolong for reasons other than achieving the purpose of not having impunity for a government that uses weapons of mass destruction, we'll soon find out. So this can't be endless."
A longtime ally to Syria, Russia has regularly vetoed efforts by Obama to go through the U.N. Security Council, of which it is a member, to condemn Assad's government or threaten it with sanctions, which has led to skepticism of Russia's sincerity with its current proposal.
Pelosi said it's up to Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and the Defense Department to decide how much time the U.S. should give Russia and Syria to prove they're serious about removing chemical weapons from the Assad regime. She noted that the situation isn't new and shouldn't require much study; in 2003, President George W. Bush signed a law condemning Syrian support for terrorism and urging Syria to stop developing weapons of mass destruction.
In the end, if the Russian proposal turns out to be a delay tactic and the U.S. military sees an opportunity to destroy Assad's chemical weapons with minimal collateral damage, Pelosi said, Obama should proceed with the use of force, even without congressional approval.
"Go forward," she said. "We'll have time to discuss all the rest of it. I don't believe he needs the authorization."
But Pelosi suspected it won't come to that.
"I believe it will all work out," she added. "I hope it will be around the Russian initiative."