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.

Start Quote

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”

End Quote

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.


More on This Story

Syria's war War in Syria


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 418.

    The sooner our dangerous psychotic warmonger leaders are removed from power the better...

    Most normal people from all nations want peace and can easily live in peace - its only the corrupt power elite minority that poses a real danger to humanity:

    Wesley Clark (US 4 Star General) US will attack 7 countries in 5 years:


  • rate this

    Comment number 417.

    Why have we still not had the irrefutable evidence that Kerry was citing weeks ago?

    Has it disintegrated?

    Can they not understand that, for many, it made no sense for Assad to do such a stupid thing at a time when UN inspectors were in the country - there was no imperative and nothing to be gained.

    It makes no sense at all - just like the fact that Kerry can't actually produce the goods.

  • rate this

    Comment number 416.

    The US must close door for those people who belief using chemical weapons against defensless people would be OK and would have no consequenses. Russia allows Assad to gas own people and Russia has allowed Assad to kill 100.000 people. Labour MPs have backstabbed Cameron and those gassed to death people in Syria. People like Assad who uses chemical weapons must be punished x

  • rate this

    Comment number 415.

    "The president is clearing his desk, going all-out to persuade for a vote that he has said is vital for America's credibility, "


    " 250 Jewish leaders and AIPAC activists will storm...to persuade lawmakers that Congress must adopt the resolution or risk emboldening Iran’s efforts to build a nuclear weapon.

    -- that should help ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 414.

    He made the wrong call and he's starting to realise there is no point in an intervention and no stomach for one in his own population. the French President is a fool - the French really don't rate him. War is not a game and neither is it a classroom. You don't teach people lessons using warfare - you crush them and take what you want. There is no middle ground once the missiles are out.

  • rate this

    Comment number 413.

    383 " If Putin and Iean hasd no bailed out Assad he would be deposed."

    And replaced by who?

    Besides which, they haven't even established who launched the chemical weapons and there are certainly reports saying it was the rebels - are we supposed to believe that Al Qaeda terrorists wouldn't do such a thing? Or that they wouldn't get funded?

  • rate this

    Comment number 412.

    "Middle Eastern Politics", and it's many faceted way of 'interpreting' it, is not a thing to 'partake in' before Lunch, especially if you've been out Partying with some Saudi Sheiks the night before...I like to 'focus' on the New Exodus of People FROM the Middle East because they themselves (not always the USA or UK) cannot run a bath, no matter a Country. Time to take responsibly yourselves...

  • rate this

    Comment number 411.

    Israel used white phosphorous on Palestinians, Turkey suppress Kurds & denies Armenian genocide, Sunni gulf kingdoms are repressive & undemocratic, US used depleted Uranium & white phosphorous in Iraq. The west supplied arms & chemicals for decades, including Saddam & Iran. Christians expelled from Iraq & sheltered in Syria.

    that's OK.

    west incites Syrian civil war & Assad is not OK.


  • rate this

    Comment number 410.

    The entire thing is a sham. The British and American people are being lied to on a unbelievable scale. We are promoting and funding death across the globe. We need a complete overhaul of our political system as right now we are in a dictatorship disguised as democracy. The west fund the civil war in Syria with their Jihad death squads cutting heads off Christians and burning churches.

  • rate this

    Comment number 409.

    384.Rebecca Riot

    It's not about supporting regimes. It is about the purpose of a strike. What will it achieve? More collateral damage i.e. deaths, for certain. More terror. No guarantee it will prevent further chemical weapons use by any side. More regional instability. More international friction.
    Military use has to have a clear military objective in support of a clear diplomatic aim.

  • Comment number 408.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 407.

    383. MagicKirin
    ref #297 and 296
    Why no thread of problem stating Russia's support of Syria has escalated the crisis in the region.
    Why no thread on America's continuing support for a wealthy unelected oppressive jihad exporting regime like Saudi?

  • rate this

    Comment number 406.

    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.


    I thought Iraq was a US "puppet government" ?

    I thought Saudi too?

    Gee, you anti-Israel bigots do like to chop and change things to suit your agenda, eh?

  • rate this

    Comment number 405.

    - We attack Iraq with fabricated evidence.
    - We attach Afghanistan to kill Osama & Co(mostly Saudi citizen) for 9/11 but Osama was in Pakistan.
    - We were suppose to enforce a no fly zone in Libya but we bomb Libya, armed the rebels and change the gov.
    - We drop chemical weapon on Vietnam
    - We drop nuclear bomb on Japan
    - We use phosphorus and depleted Uranium in Iraq

  • rate this

    Comment number 404.

    It is to late Obama has made rash statements , and like the self important person he is he will carry on even if he knows he is wrong , it tells you something when his own countrymen want nothing to do with this. But a country that is 17 trillion in debt and growing by 1.99 billion dollars a day where id the logic in his actions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 403.

    What is comforting about this Syrian dispute is to see the grass-roots movement of the people (British, American & French) going in opposition to their war-mongering governments.
    I hope the momentum can be sustained, and ordinary people can stand firm. No more wars!
    Our representatives will then have no choice but to go along with a new peace movement.

  • rate this

    Comment number 402.

    357. MidwayBattle
    "The anti-Assad lot blame Israel ..."
    "The pro-Assad/Iran/Russia lot blame Israel ..."
    ... and they're killing each other.

    Situation normal in the middle east then.

  • rate this

    Comment number 401.

    It is not clear what senior UN officials know currently regarding the atrocities of 21st August 2013 in Syria, when their report is released after the 15th September 2013 it may make grim reading. Politicians are frequently criticised however at a high level there is more information available. This process should be devoid of personalities - otherwise the media tend to twist everything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 400.

    Obama has managed to turn America into Public Enemy Number One!


    But saying that has anyone ever like them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 399.

    Cameron , Bush with Hollande

    have not really sensed and comprehended each of their respected nations disengagement for military intervention in Syria

    wake up smell the coffee and tea

    so much for democracy


Page 31 of 51


More US & Canada stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.