Syria crisis: Obama says world's credibility on the line


Barack Obama: "The world set a red line when the governments representing 98% of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent"

President Barack Obama has said the credibility of the US, its Congress and the international community is on the line over their response to Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons.

Speaking in Sweden, he said the world should stick to its own "red line" against the use of chemical weapons.

Mr Obama is trying to build support in the US for punitive military action against the Syrian government.

Congress will vote next week on whether to support his plans.

France - whose government has strongly advocated intervention - held an extraordinary debate on Wednesday in the National Assembly, though MPs will not vote on the matter as the president can mobilise the military without their backing.

French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault: ''Bashar al-Assad has become a war criminal and has committed a crime against humanity''

Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said it was France's duty to act and that "faced with barbarism, doing nothing is not an option".

Inaction would "put peace and security in the entire region in danger", he said, and "close the door on a political solution" to the conflict.

The UK parliament voted last month against military intervention.

Jordan's Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour told the BBC that it would back intervention in neighbouring Syria if proof emerged that chemical weapons had been used.

But he said any strikes would have to be precise, and that Jordan itself would not be involved.

'World's red line'

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is accused of using chemical weapons against civilians on several occasions during the 30-month conflict, most recently on a large scale in an attack on 21 August on the outskirts of Damascus.

Jordanian PM Abdullah Ensour: "It would be a very exact hit to the chemical weapons, and not hurt the civilians"

The US has put the death toll from that incident at 1,429 - though other countries and organisations have given lower figures - and says all the evidence implicates government forces.

President Assad has said such an attack would have been "illogical" because UN chemical weapons experts were visiting Damascus at the time.

Mr Obama has said the evidence gives him "high confidence that Assad carried this out" and that action must be taken to deter the regime from using chemical weapons again and degrade its ability to do so.

On Tuesday, senior members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations agreed a draft resolution on military action to go before Congress, specifying that any operation would be "limited and tailored" and prohibit the use of ground forces.

They later approved authorisation for the US use of military force in Syria by 10-7.

The full committee may vote on the draft on Wednesday.

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If the president is not unhappy with this first motion, some who want deeper and more serious involvement, aimed at toppling Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, may be”

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Mr Obama has won the support of key Congressional leaders, though influential Republican John McCain said there were "number of people who are unhappy".

So far, only 21 senators have said they support or are likely to support the resolution, according to a tally by ABC News.

Thirteen have said they oppose or are likely to oppose the resolution, while 66 votes are undecided or unknown.

However those numbers are expected to shift as the language in the resolution changes, the White House and their congressional allies apply pressure, and lawmakers hear from their constituents.

Separately, Secretary of State John Kerry and Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel pressed the Obama administration's case in the US House of Representatives on Wednesday.

Mr Hagel said any US military strike at Syria would not be a mere "pin prick" but would reduce Syria's military capability. He said he thought the likelihood was "very high" that Mr Assad would use chemical weapons again if the US did not act.

The defence secretary estimated the cost of such a strike would be in the "tens of millions" of US dollars.

In prepared remarks, Mr Kerry said "the world is wondering whether the United States of America is going to consent with silence".

Among the audience at the panel were several people with signs opposing US action, their palms coloured in red.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen meets Damascus residents forming a 'human shield' to protect key military sites

In Stockholm, Mr Obama said he did not believe he had risked his credibility by asking Congress to vote - something he was not constitutionally obliged to do.

"My credibility is not on the line. The international community's credibility is on the line," he said.

"America and Congress's credibility is on the line, because we give lip-service to the notion that these international norms are important."

Mr Obama, who has previously said the use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line", told reporters it was not him who set this line but the world, "when governments representing 98% of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war".

Syria's chemical weapons

  • The CIA believes Syria has had a chemical weapons programme "for years and already has a stockpile of CW agents which can be delivered by aircraft, ballistic missile, and artillery rockets"
  • Syria is believed to possess mustard gas and sarin, a highly toxic nerve agent
  • The CIA also believes that Syria has attempted to develop more toxic and more persistent nerve agents, such as VX gas
  • A report citing Turkish, Arab and Western intelligence agencies put Syria's stockpile at approximately 1,000 tonnes of chemical weapons, stored in 50 towns and cities
  • Syria has not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) or ratified the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BTWC)

Sources: CSIS, RUSI

"Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty," he added.

He said he believed Congress would approve intervention, but stressed that as commander-in-chief, he had the right to act in his country's national interest regardless.

Russia remains firmly opposed to military action.

President Vladimir Putin warned on Wednesday that any strike without UN approval would be "an aggression".

But he said Russia did not rule out supporting a UN Security Council resolution authorising force, if it was proved "beyond doubt" that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons.

In Syria, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said Damascus was mobilising its allies, who were "offering it all sorts of support".

"Iran, Russia, South Africa and some Arab countries have rejected this aggression and are ready to face this war," he told the AFP news agency.

Meanwhile, Syrian state TV denied reports that a former Defence Minister, General Ali Habib, has defected.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition movement told Reuters that Mr Habib had fled to Turkey, but the Alikhbaria news channel said he was still at his home.

The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have been killed since the uprising against President Assad began in March 2011.

Steps on Syria vote

  • Voting in Senate Foreign Relations committee
  • Senate floor vote, including votes to overcome procedural hurdles
  • House committee could draft separate version of resolution
  • Full House vote on measure passed by the Senate or the chamber's own version

How the bill moves through Congress

On Tuesday, the UN's refugee agency said more than two million Syrians were now registered as refugees, and an estimated 4.25 million had been displaced within Syria, making it the worst refugee crisis since the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

At a meeting at the UN in Geneva on Wednesday, the foreign ministers of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Iraq - which border Syria - called for more international support to help them handle the huge numbers arriving in their countries.

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes at the UN said they were frustrated and dismayed at the lack of a political solution to the Syrian conflict, and at the lack of help.

They are expected to ask for funding and in some cases, for help resettling some refugees in other countries, possibly in Europe.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    The anti-Assad coalition tried topple Assad and failed.
    While US/UK et al, are working for 'REGIME CHANGE' Assad will keep fighting.
    If STOPPING bloodshed is NOW the priority, could be achieved QUICKLY by the anti-Assad forces accepting they have failed, calling a cease fire and leaving Syria.
    The West could facilitate this by conditionally endorsing Assad, subject to his hostilities cessation

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    Would anyone else feel happier about the US taking action if they had a clear plan in place for what to do afterwards?

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    5. Sally the contrarian

    ' It's naive of you to think that killing more Syrians will help Syria. What will you tell the families of innocent lost ones? "Whoops?" '

    What will you tell the families of innocent ones gassed in their sleep in future attacks if you do nothing? Will you just shrug?

    Sadly, there are no good solutions on the table here.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    Vietnam? Iraq? Afghanistan? Does America still have any credibility left?

    So is Obama saying he now wants to attack Syria and kill lots of people to save his credibility?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    If they had handled things differently in the past they could have used that goodwill now when they are asking for our trust.

    The boy who cried wolf..............

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    Give it a rest, Barry, it's got bells on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    The Syrian people have been asking us to help them against the tyrant and despot Assad for more than a year. In that time thousands of innocents have died. It's time we did the moral thing and answered them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    Isn't the death of over 100,000 civilians enough evidence to strike on Syria??? Or let's wait to see if they used chemical weapons first. Unbelievable!

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Just what is credibility , and who measures it?

    Machismo isn’t a prerequisite for a good decision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    I detect a lot of opinion from people who only think they know how the world works. You don't know. Nor do I, but I have more of a clue than you.
    War is bad. Been there. You see, hear and smell things you cannot imagine.
    Chemical weapons are a line that should not be crossed. They were used, that much is clear...The person who ordered their use should be punished. If not strikes then what?

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    Surely the only real way forward is via the UN. If the information available is so certain that Assad's organisation was responsible, then share it properly with the Russians and Chinese. Only with full UN support would Assad's regime crumble - then credibility would be restored.

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    American creditability is on the line but he put it there and that still does not make intervention the correct thing to do. He should know by now that democracy and Islam do not make the best fellows.

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    Why talk in public?

    US want to take action but only after Congress have agreed. Seems Obama & Co. have walked into a political cul-de-sac and so now must be seen to be doing something.

    In the meantime what does Assad do? Move military and chemical targets next to schools, hospitals, civilian areas...

    Well-delayed and played-out in public chaps - another fine mess you've got us into...

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    Many would argue that the credibility of the worlds most respected authority (UN) is on the line without such authorisation for military action

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Good to see no one on this HYS is falling for America's lies anymore. Mr Obama will be even worse than Bush if that's even possible. His Democratic pals only agree with him because their jobs are on the line and most of the rest don't have any moral conviction whatsoever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Something doesn't smell right about these broad attempts in the west to get public approval for military intervention.

    Seems to me that either the original gas attack was not actually the Syrian government and the western leaders know it (but can now say "you told us to intervene"), or they have much wider reaching plans for intervention (and can say, "but you gave us permission").

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.


    If a UK factory is responsible for supplying chemical weapons' ingredients to Syria, then it would be more credible for the UK to bomb the factory concerned than to go taking it out on innocent people who are already suffering enough.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    The world's credibility is not on the line, Mr. Obama. YOUR credibility is. Dutch MPs have today seen the secret 'evidence' that Assad's regime is to blame, and were left unconvinced. Obama seems willing to bomb rather than lose face. Not a true statesman.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    Exactly. Just as Miliband's credibility is finally gone forever after abandoning millions of Syrian civilians to their fate in the desert whilst those with the temerity to stay in their homes are gassed and napalmed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    Gosh, Mr. Putin, your such a standup guy! Who would have thought that the Soviet union, I mean Russia, would every condone the use of WMD, much less use them. NO, Mr. Putin, the "evidence" is in the lie in your OWN history - go here and be educated:
    Fact is, Putin is nothing more than a historical lapdog to Stalin


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