Obama: US cannot ignore Syria chemical weapons

President Barack Obama (6 September 2013) President Obama has acknowledged he faces an uphill battle to win congressional backing for a military strike against Syria

President Barack Obama has said the US cannot "turn a blind eye" to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

He was speaking after returning to the US from a G20 summit in Russia, which failed to produce international agreement on military action in Syria.

The US accuses President Bashar al-Assad's forces of killing 1,429 people in a poison gas attack on 21 August.

EU foreign ministers say there should be no action before the UN reports back on chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Mr Obama faces a tough week of trying to persuade Congress to authorise military action.

He will also seek public support in a White House address on Tuesday.

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He's decided that even if no-one else (apart from France) is willing to step up to the plate, it is America's job to do so. Few at home or abroad seem to agree with him - but they don't have any other answer either”

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Mr Assad and his ally President Vladimir Putin of Russia blame rebels for the attack.

In a radio and internet address, Mr Obama said he understood that the American people were "weary after a decade of war" and insisted this would not be an "open-ended intervention" akin to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"But we are the United States of America. We cannot turn a blind eye to images like the ones we've seen out of Syria.

"Failing to respond to this outrageous attack would increase the risk that chemical weapons could be used again, that they would fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us, and it would send a horrible signal to other nations that there would be no consequences for their use of these weapons.

"All of which would pose a serious threat to our national security."

Any action, President Obama said, would be "limited both in time and scope - designed to deter the Syrian government from gassing its own people again and degrade its ability to do so".

G20 deadlock

Russia restated its opposition to any strike at the G20 summit in St Petersburg, with Mr Putin warning that military intervention would destabilise the region.

As President Obama returns to the US, his Secretary of State John Kerry is on a whirlwind tour of Europe to build international support for military action in Syria.

In a four-day trip, he's meeting with EU foreign ministers in Vilnius, Arab League representatives in Paris, his French counterpart Laurent Fabius in Paris, as well as William Hague in London. The initial purpose of this round of travel was to make advances on Middle East negotiations - a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is still in the diary for the London leg - but the issue of Syria is likely to overshadow everything else.

With the UK parliament vote ruling them out of any action, it is key for the US to drum up as much international support as it can.

Secretary Kerry began his trip by meeting the president of Lithuania, the country which currently holds the presidency of the EU.

In a radio interview on the eve of their meeting she said the United Nations must be involved - a requirement many countries have ahead of committing to any action.

A US official conceded that there were divisions in the EU on how to act on Syria, but said Mr Kerry would take this opportunity to discuss ways to work with the UN, as well as its limitations.

Both Russia and China, which have refused to agree to a UN Security Council resolution against Syria, insist any military action without the UN would be illegal.

President Obama has only a few days to convince Congress, which returns from its summer recess on Monday.

Both the Senate and House of Representatives could vote on the Syrian issue as early as next week.

Mr Obama has acknowledged that he faces a "heavy lift" to win congressional backing.

A poll commissioned by the BBC and ABC News suggested more than a third of Congress members were undecided whether or not to back military action - and a majority of those who had made a decision said they would vote against the president.

Many remain concerned that military action could draw the US into a prolonged war and spark broader hostilities in the region.

'Prepared for action'

In Europe for a four-day visit, US Secretary of State John Kerry met his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, in Paris and both men spoke of their determination to respond to the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Mr Kerry said the US and France were not talking about going to war, but discussing limited military action, aimed at degrading the Syrian authorities' ability to use chemical weapons.

Repeating a phrase he used earlier in the week, he said the international community was facing a "Munich moment" - a reference to the policy of appeasement that failed to stop Nazi Germany in the 1930s.

US Secretary of State: "We are very grateful for the statement that came out of the meeting today with respect of Syria"

It was not, he said, the time to allow unfettered use of some of the most heinous weapons on Earth.

"There are a number of countries, in the double digits, who are prepared to take military action," he added. "We have more countries prepared to take military action than we actually could use in the kind of military action being contemplated."

Earlier, in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, he welcomed a statement on Syria by EU foreign ministers who were meeting there.

The EU ministers issued a statement saying that the available intelligence "seems to indicate strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible for the attack".

While calling for a "clear and strong response", the ministers said that the crisis in Syria should be addressed "through the UN process" and said they hoped UN investigators could issue their preliminary report on the attack as soon as possible.

They said they welcomed French President Francois Hollande's call to wait for this report before taking any further action.

Mr Kerry welcomed the EU's "strong statement about the need for accountability". A senior US state department official who attended Mr Kerry's meeting with the ministers said Mr Kerry had made clear the US had not made any decision to wait.

The US secretary of state is due to meet Arab League representatives in Paris before travelling to London for further talks with UK Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Some 100,000 people have died in the two-and-a-half-year-old Syrian conflict, according to the UN.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 398.

    I've tried to rate a couple of entries with the up arrow but accidentally get the down arrow because the stupid rathing buttons are too close together...I've complained about this before but nothing's been done. Anyone get this problem?

  • rate this

    Comment number 397.

    Ah, the REFRESHING feeling of being British - at last, we have a Parliament that reflects the will of the People! (with FULL PR coming soon it'll have NO CHOICE but to do so!).

    As for the US and Russia, I'll just use music to define it.

    "Clowns to the left of me,
    Jokers to the right, here I am,
    Stuck in the middle with you." - (Stealers Wheel)

    Maybe if we just ignore them, they'll go away?..

  • rate this

    Comment number 396.

    Your assessment: "failed" is dishonest BK. Inaccurate. Do you seriously look to Brazil, South Africa, Argentina, Indonesia for global leadership? Inevitably, at any time in history, some state was Top Wolf, so to speak. Would 7 Billion humans vote for Putin to decide how they live&how they die? Vacillating or not, Americans do have the stomach to get this necessary job done. It needs to be done.

  • Comment number 395.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 394.

    "Most of these US-led wars are well planned years in advance."
    You forget how the war in Syria started - a teenage boy was detained by Assad's police, tortured and then killed. This led to peaceful protests and some of the protestors were shot by Assad's forces - this rapidly deteriorated into yet another Muslim sectarian war.
    How could any of that be planned by the USA?

  • rate this

    Comment number 393.

    “There is no way to peace — peace is the way”

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    361 Saradiyal
    'Middle-eastern countries have no appetite for democracy yet, those countries need dictators to control due to complex religious and cultural differences and deep divisions among people.'
    It took England 400 years to sort out universal suffrage via a civil war, a 'Glorious Revolution' chartist riots,catholic emancipation etc.
    If we can do it and cherish it - so can they.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    The politically savvy thing to do was for him to say that the 'red line' was crossed and he is taking action - by consulting with his country's population and leaders and with other countries as to what their response should be.
    if their response is to do nothing then so be it - he has taken action and the decision is to do nothing at this time, further developments may need a re-assessment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    FancyFree @ 342 asks:
    "Why would the Israelis want to replace a secular dictator with an Al-Qaeda salafi regime?"

    If you look at a map of the ME you will note that there is no friendly air corridor from Israel to Iran

    Saudi, Iraq & Turkey would not want to be involved in an Israeli attack via their airspace

    Whereas an American puppet gov would.

    Then, of course, there's the Golan Height's oil

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    Bentian wrote...
    > Obama etc don't claim their missiles will end the Syria war, they claim they may deter future use of nerve gas on civilians <

    The Obama regime 'claims' all sorts of things, but it doesn't take a crystal ball to see that much of it is propaganda hogwash.

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. -Albert Einstein

    The warmongers like Obama, McCain and Kerry are literally insane folks, you can even see it their cold lifeless dead eyes when they get in front of the cameras and lie to millions of people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    I used to be quite right wing. Things like this make me question current affairs and history. Did the Germans really start WW2? Is N.Korea really that bad? Is Iran really doing anything wrong? Having seen how effectively the Anglo-American cabal manipulate the truth I now doubt everything I've been taught and told by the media and the politicians. I've seen what a pack of liars they can all be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 386.

    The interesting questions still remain unanswered. Do we have reliable proof (not manufactured by CIA or other less than credible sources) that Assad deployed these weapons. IF Assad did, should we retaliate? Lets face it he is fighting groups closely linked with the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, haven't we spent billions on doing the same? So what are we missing?

  • Comment number 385.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 384.

    354 UK voter

    The House of Commons vote for no action was a shambles not a democratic decision. Milliband deliberately misled, saying yes then one hour later voting no. He stitched up government on purpose

    Meanwhile 140 MP's were missing, did not vote? What kind of democracy is that??

    It seems most strange that many folk commenting on here support Syria & Russia regimes, not Britain??

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    ref #297 and 296

    Why no thread of problem stating Russia's support of Syria has escalated the crisis in the region. If Putin and Iean hasd no bailed out Assad he would be deposed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 382.

    If Cameron or any other politician want to take part in military intervention, let them do just that - in person.

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    It's hard to tell, when listening to the communications intercepts, if we're not hearing our own people on the ground or the Syrian military. And it's hard to tell, when watching the satellite evidence, if we're not seeing our own people or the Syrian military.

  • rate this

    Comment number 380.

    I hope that the US public continue to contact their REPs and that Military Action is avoided and a huge push for Peace results. I'm not sure that this will be outcome. If the attacks lead to new leadership in Syria it will be interesting to see if the Syria/Iraq/Iran gas pipeline is dropped in favor of a Qatar/Turkey pipeline. Recall Qatar Government are huge financiers of the Opposition

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    Were the USA and followers honest about delivering a punishment beating to those loosely linked to any side that used chemical weapons, they would be using language of the type that they would bomb whoever they had proof used them. It is telling that they are not. It shows up that they merely want to do regime change by harming the Syrian government conventional military capacity.War prize anyone?


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