Washington (CNN) – After U.S. officials attempted to explain Secretary of State John Kerry's invitation to Syria to abandon its chemical weapons as "rhetorical," the Obama administration is now offering a timeline to make the case the top U.S. diplomat's remarks may have been less accidental than previously acknowledged.
At a news conference with British Foreign Secretary William Hague Monday, Kerry appeared to give Syrian president Bashar al-Assad an opportunity to avoid a U.S. military strike.
"Turn it over, all of it, without delay," Kerry said.
A senior administration official said Kerry's comment in response to a reporter's question came after weeks of discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
As soon as Kerry made the remarks, the official said, he spoke with Lavrov in a pre-scheduled phone call. It was during that conversation, the official said, that Kerry demanded a plan from the Russians. Lavrov, the official said, promised a response.
Hours later, Russia unveiled its plan for Syria to surrender its chemical weapon stockpiles.
A senior administration official said Kerry followed his conversation with Lavrov with another call to the White House to discuss his conversation with the Russian Foreign Minister.
But administration officials say Obama and Putin have been quietly discussing Syria's chemical weapons for nearly a year. Both leaders later appointed their top diplomats, Kerry and Lavrov, to continue the discussions.
While Obama and Putin reportedly have a chilly relationship, the administration official said that is hardly the case between Kerry and Lavrov.
Since the August 21 chemical attack in suburban Damascus, Kerry and Lavrov have had nine conversations about Syria's arsenal, the official said.
The issue arose again between Obama and Putin at last week's Group of 20 conference in St. Petersburg.
But until Monday, the negotiations lacked a mechanism for Russia to get involved, which came, in part, from congressional debate over potential military strikes in Syria, the official said.
The new push for diplomacy, the official insisted, was not planned ahead of time. It was diplomacy in real time, the official said.
At a hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Kerry said the latest plan to deal with Syria's chemical weapons amounted to an American challenge to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"Yesterday, we challenged the regime to turn them over to the secure control of the international community so that they could be destroyed. And that, of course, would be the ultimate way to degrade and deter Assad'sarsenal. It is the ideal weapon – ideal way to take this weapon away from him," he said.
Administration officials said the diplomatic developments will have an impact on the president's speech to the nation Tuesday night. One White House official said there is now less pressure for a congressional vote for a military strike.