WASHINGTON -- Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle returned to work Wednesday, relieved that President Obama had called off a vote on military action in Syria, postponing a political confrontation that few in Washington want to have.
In the afternoon, the Senate formally ended its consideration of a resolution authorizing military force against the Syrian government and moved on to an energy efficiency bill. The showdown over United States military intervention appears to be over, at least for now.
But even as the president earned praise for being willing to pursue a diplomatic response in Syria, it was what he did not say on Tuesday night in his 16-minute address from the East Room of the White House on Tuesday night that may ultimately shape the broader reaction to his remarks in the days ahead.
The president did not say how long he would wait to see if President Bashar al-Assad relinquishes control of the chemical weapons that administration officials say he used to gas his own people.
Mr. Obama did not detail the steps that the United States would demand from Syria as proof that the diplomatic efforts were more than a delaying tactic to avoid a punishing strike from cruise missiles and American bombers.
And the president did not use his speech to describe his expectations for the role of the United Nations, which has been all but stymied by Russia and China during the two-year civil war in Syria.
"A diplomatic resolution is always preferred over military action, but what would that resolution entail, and who will broker it?" Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, said in a statement after the speech.
At the White House on Wednesday, Jay Carney, the press secretary, said it would "take some time" to determine whether the diplomatic effort could be successful.
"But it needs to be credible," Mr. Carney said. "It needs to be verifiable. And we will work with our allies and partners to test whether or not that can be achieved."
Mr. Carney said the United States would insist that any diplomatic effort to avert a military strike result in the securing of Syria's chemical weapons by the international community, their removal from Mr. Assad's possession, and ultimately their destruction.
"We are doing the responsible thing here, which is testing the potential here for success," Mr. Carney said.
On Capitol Hill, a bipartisan and growing group of senators continued their talks on Syria in light of the diplomatic efforts to secure the chemical weapons.
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said that the United Nations Security Council should be given days -- not weeks -- to approve a plan to secure the weapons. Without quick progress, efforts to authorize force would begin anew, he said.
"If they're committed to removing Bashar Assad's chemical weapons stocks, we know how to do that. We know how it's done," Mr. McCain said in an interview, adding that he "would love" to see a resolution of force "back on the floor, sooner rather than later."
"We'll know if this is serious or not. What's there to negotiate?" he said.
For now, lawmakers in both parties were happy to set aside the Syrian crisis, mindful that a rejection of the use of force would deliver a blow to the prestige of the president and possibly the nation, but even more mindful that their constituents adamantly oppose military action.
Democratic leaders had feared that bringing up any other legislation, like the energy bill, would invite opponents of a military strike to demand a vote that would put lawmakers in a difficult political spot. But Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky and the leader of the opposition to a strike, promised to make no such move.
"I'm hoping we find a diplomatic solution," Mr. Paul said. "Ultimately, people realize a diplomatic solution where chemical weapons went under international control is better than any military effort could have ever gotten."
But even Mr. Paul called it "50-50" that a Syrian resolution would remain off the Senate floor for long. He said he would probably have an opportunity soon to demand a vote making a Congressional rejection of force binding on the executive branch.
Meanwhile, negotiations on an amended resolution of force continued on Wednesday. The initial eight senators involved -- Mr. McCain; Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina; Kelly Ayotte, Republican of New Hampshire; Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia; Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan; Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York; Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware; and Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania -- have been joined by Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat of New Hampshire, and the leadership of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
After an hourlong meeting on Wednesday in Mr. McCain's office, the group agreed to meet again on Thursday. Mr. McCain said the effort was aimed not at an entirely new resolution authorizing force but at an amendment to the Foreign Relations Committee's resolution, which would allow a United Nations Security Council effort a limited amount of time to achieve its results. If the Security Council fails to act, the Senate could move forward with its original war resolution.
"I could write it on the back of an envelope," Mr. McCain said. "It's not that complicated."
House Democrats put forward their own new resolution of force that would authorize a military strike if international efforts to secure Syrian chemical weapons fail and if the Assad government uses such weapons again.
The trajectory of the White House efforts to seek authorization for military force in Syria was radically altered by a flurry of diplomatic activity on Monday and Tuesday. Mr. Obama's speech, originally designed to be a cudgel for action, was suddenly a plea for time.
What is left is uncertainty.
International reaction to the speech was muted on Wednesday morning.
Syrian state television did not carry Mr. Obama's speech, and the official news agency did not immediately issue any commentary on it. A statement from the Syrian exile opposition group that the United States backs, the National Coalition of Syrian Opposition and Revolutionary Forces, said, "The proposal is a political strategy that aims to stall for more time, which will allow the regime to cause more death and destruction in Syria, and pose a threat to the countries and peoples of the region."
Mark Mardell, the BBC North America editor, called the address essentially irrelevant: "a speech that was clear but almost entirely lacking in passion and devoid of new arguments."
The Israeli government maintained its silence about the emerging Russian-brokered deal in its effort to avoid being seen as intervening in the Syrian conflict or as trying to influence American policy.
In London, the spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said that discussions were under way at the United Nations among the United States, France and Britain over a draft resolution, and that the text would later be circulated among Russia and China, the other two permanent members of the Security Council.
"There is a process under way," he said. "It will be for the Russian government and the Assad regime to demonstrate their credibility."
In Germany, which on Wednesday was preparing to welcome the first 105 of another 5,000 refugees from Syria, there was clear skepticism about the latest diplomatic proposals. Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has called them "a small glimmer of hope," did not discuss Syria with her cabinet at its regular weekly meeting on Wednesday, according to a government spokesman, Steffen Seibert.
"It is important that Syria cannot play for time," Mr. Seibert said. "The Syrian government must not just make statements, it must act."
Secretary of State John Kerry is headed to Geneva for two days on Thursday to begin talks about how to carry out Russia's proposal to have Syria cede control of its chemical weapons. But initial hopes for quick action at the Security Council on Tuesday were quickly scuttled, suggesting that diplomacy could drag on.
Steven Erlanger contributed reporting from London, Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem, Victor Homola from Berlin and Anne Barnard from Beirut, Lebanon.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.