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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  • Comment number 1821.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1820.

    @1800. Tidbit

    This isn't a choice between Syria and the US...!!!
    but between common sense and lunacy ... throwing expensive missles at a country with loads of chemical weapons stockpiled is hardly the solution to this problem getting Russia to reign in Assad and get him to reduce these awful weapons is after all they feel that they are our partners.Starting ww3 is not v clever either.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1819.


    Did that Documentary mention that the US was supporting the Allies with material and weapons for the first two years of the war, but couldn't get involved because of a mixture of an Isolationist policy and a need to deal with domestic issues first, National Interest actually meaning what it said back then.

    If it didn't, it wasn't a very good documentary.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1818.

    @1812 Margaret Howard you have every right to believe I am wrong. But if you go on Youtube and search for National Geographic documentaries on WWII and watch a couple of them I bet you will agree with me that Winston Churchill desperately and repeatedly begged Americans to join the WWII! Well it was to save lives and I understand!
    Second I am not American!!!!!!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1817.

    1809. Its you that appears to be a little tetchy. No one's asking for a phD thesis but life's a little more complicated than an NG potted history.

    If you can't see the distinction then you will fall for the myth's that surround WWII...again not that it has any relevance to Syria today.

    To point that out to you is not to insult just to get you to open your eyes and see the bigger picture.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1816.

    Can someone please explain the objective of a strike, and how it can be achieived without "collateral damage", and without having any repercussions around the world in general and the Middle East in particular? Maybe if Obama can set this out he may find some support. If he can't, I fear this is just another in a long list of foolish adventures that look morally sound but are politically inept.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1815.

    I struggle with this idea that by doing nothing we try to lay claim to the moral high ground.

    So in another 2 or 3 years it will finally run its course and maybe 500,000 or 750,000 dead. But we here in the peaceful west can sleep the sleep of the just... for we stood by our moral convictions and courageously did nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1814.

    I know that the US is also a terrorist nation. I also know that the US isn't intervening for humanitarian reasons. And I know that a short little strike at Assad will mean nothing. However, knowing all this, I still feel that something must be done to try and help, in whatever way, to help those human beings who are suffering victims. World leaders, when they come into power, lose their humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1813.

    The only credibility at stake is Obama's. He promised hope and change. But he's only delivered cynicism plus more of the same. Instead of changing Washington, it has changed Obama ... he's now became another George W Bush.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1812.

    1781 Zeroni

    "UK had Hitler in France thinking to invade Churchill went crying to the Americans to join the war!
    war is far from the U.K and the U.S want to do a similar thing some of their biggest critics come from the U.K!"


    PM Wilson was wise enough to keep us out of your folly in Vietnam

    Pity we didn't heed his good advice since then

  • rate this

    Comment number 1811.

    You know if my parents are arguing in my house...I really don't think a cruise missile fired by a neighbor helps alleviate the underlying cause of their differences.

    While I wish people would just stopping killing each other I don't see how throwing more weapons into the mix will calm things down.

    Ironically, the US's (and several other nations) nerve gas weapons program is alive and well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1810.

    As an American I wholeheartedly believe that the burden lies on our government to prove (as much as possible) to the American people that indeed Sarin Gas was dispatched by Assad's troops before we go stampeding into war. That said, if it is so, no 90 day campaign will suffice. We cannot allow the chemical weapons stockpiles to fall into the hands the likes of Al-Nusra.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1809.

    @1794 TViking see my reply at 1798. You can verify the history I am telling you about for yourself with National Geographic on Youtube!
    Second stop the neat picking this not a PhD Thesis, it is a blog!
    Not to sound too patronizing I see many people (not everyone let me stress that) who seem to be from the U.K tend to get easily offensive in debates and that is simply extraordinary!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1808.

    Amazing 10 years ago no one knew of Obama but look at the power he has today. Life & death...isn't that incredible.

    The ME has had families in power for generations. Now who do you think we/they will believe? This was set in motion and called Arab Spring.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1807.

    @1800. Tidbit
    They have the credibility afforded to a nation that hasn't gone running all over the world to fight the invisible enemy of terrorism it having struck them at home. :) no they fight it at home and get called war criminals.

    :) The next few months will be very interesting.

    Hope you all make it in one piece because this could end up costing us dearly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1806.

    1800. Tidbit
    You are awfully brave banging away at your keyboard.Have you ever actually fought in a war?,It's not glorious.
    anyone who has fought doesn't want to do it again. After personally witnessing the mess in Iraq I for one would not choose another ill conceived American led adventure.
    I choose to stay out of it and not back CIA funded terrorists. Remember the Mujaheddin?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1805.

    The way that French intelligence about Assad's chemical weapons stash has been conveniently leaked, or declassified, (reports differ) NOW suggests manipulation of public opinion.
    If the five states near Syria can't agree on what to do, how can Western bombardment accomplish anything? Russia appears to fear the fall of Assad. Perhaps Russia is right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1804.

    1789.Steve "1781. Stop with the WWII analogies. "
    Can't agree more, the Syrian conflict bears absolutely no resemblance to WW2 and to try to draw analogies to it is futile.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1803.

    "Syria crisis: Obama says world's credibility on the line". It's the US that has the credibility problem - that's why no one believes them over Syria. And it's entirely self-inflicted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1802.

    History dictates that the US does not hold the moral high-ground. The US is militarily strong but it will lose every war it engages in (especially the Middle East), as it cannot win the hearts of the people it tries to help, and embitters those it combats against. A blockade supported by the UN would be a much better form of action which would not cost lives and would reduce the regime's potency.


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