WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers assessing the agreement on Syria's chemical weapons argued Sunday about whether President Barack Obama was outfoxed by the Russians and had lost leverage in trying to end the civil war, or whether his threat of military action propelled the breakthrough.
Obama said the turn to diplomacy had laid "a foundation" toward political settlement of the conflict.
The deal announced Saturday in Geneva by U.S. and Russian diplomat sets an ambitious timetable for elimination of Syria's chemical weapons by mid-2014.
Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the U.S. is "being led by the nose by" Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"So, if we wanted a transition with Assad, we just fired our last round, and we have taken our ability to negotiate a settlement from the White House, and we've sent it with Russia to the United Nations," Rogers, R-Mich., said. "That's a dangerous place for us to be if you want an overall settlement to the problems."
Democratic Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan, said Russia's primary aim has been to force the U.S. to give up that option. "Russia has failed in that goal," Levin said.
To Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the threat of American military action is "the only reason we've gotten to this point, even to this possibility."
Obama said in an interview with ABC's "This Week" that if Syria can be stopped from using chemical weapons, "then we may also have a foundation" to begin the process of reaching a political settlement to civil war.
The president's interview aired Sunday but was taped Friday, before the chemical weapons deal was reached but while Secretary of State John Kerry was engaged in intense talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Obama said Putin is "protecting" Assad and doesn't share American "values" in Syria. "He has a different attitude about the Assad regime," Obama said. "But what I've also said to him directly is that we both have an interest in preventing chaos, we both have an interest in preventing terrorism. The situation in Syria right now is untenable. As long as Mr. Assad's in power, there is going be some sort of conflict there."
The U.S. says intelligence reports have placed the blame on the Assad government for the attack last month, and that prompted Obama to ready American airstrikes on his order, until he announced on Aug. 31 that he would first ask for authorization from Congress. But amid growing skepticism among lawmakers and opposition from the U.S. public, he asked lawmakers to delay a vote while giving negotiations with the Russians time to play out.
Rogers spoke on CNN's "State of the Union." Corker and Levin were on CBS' "Face the Nation," and Menendez appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press."