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 658.

    It`s interesting how the wording has changed.Now Obama says we`re turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons.That`s a different argument to the one where he says we have to attack Assad.Assad may be the love-him-or-hate-him kind of guy but both Obama and Putin are trying to fit events to their agendas.
    Go after the guys who used chemical weapons,when we have absolute proof who they were.

  • rate this

    Comment number 657.

    #621 G_Ath

    "Jihadist Rebels Caught With Sarin Gas In Turkey! "

    "On June 2, Iraq announced it had captured a five-man cell operating two chemical weapons facilities in Baghdad for the manufacture of sarin and mustard gas.

    Turkey (press) claimed a cylinder of sarin gas was found in one of the homes. Turkish authorities, who support Syrian rebels, tried to play down those reports."

  • rate this

    Comment number 656.

    The bbc removes posts because they don't side with its opinions. I thought media was supposed to be u nbiased

  • rate this

    Comment number 655.

    636 - and I'll leave you to your "mad, swivel-eyed" lunacy - checking for reds under the bed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 654.

    Obama 'We are American's we see somethings wrong. We must bomb someone'. Strangely I seem to have a higher opinion of the ordinary Americans than the President of the USA. I think most correctly believe that firing Cruise missiles into Syria isn't the right thing to do. They don't want to start another 'War of choice'. Obama as President has repudiated Obama the candidate. A shame.

  • Comment number 653.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 652.

    According to Israel's Haaretz, the "Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which collects information from a network of anti-regime activists, says it has so far only been able to confirm 502 dead."


    But...but....but...I thought the Israelis were right up for this war and were feeding propaganda and their media is biased and everything?

  • rate this

    Comment number 651.

    4 Minutes ago
    How odd is it that America can send drones to NW Pakistan and pick out a single target, or have satelites that can read a number plate and recognize individual facial features


    You've been watching "Spooks" again Sally.

  • rate this

    Comment number 650.

    Obama's conclusive G20 speech to news media was so hard to watch yesterday for the sake of numerous awkward pauses as he wrestled with giving less than eloquent or convincing arguments to very simplistic questions as to WHY bomb? Why all the awkward pauses Mr Obama?? Almost as if he were struggling to make it up as he went along?

  • rate this

    Comment number 649.

    618, Seriously? Dead bodies are not allegations. Defectors have come forward with testimony, in addition to foreign doctors (MSF) & humanitarian NGO staff. Who has been pulling the trigger all along? Who has been ordering attacks? "Rebels" have all been in a defensive posture from the start & have very modest weapons resources. This is a no-brainer,no matter what Putin claims in his self-servingPR

  • rate this

    Comment number 648.

    Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister of Russia, tweeted that America was behaving in the Islamic world 'like a monkey with a hand grenade'. I find the comment highly species-ist, since most monkeys are mutually helpful beasties, superior in nearly every respect to the current POTUS. And just for once, after all the dismal, posturing, bloody-handed callousness of Blair, I am proud to be British.

  • Comment number 647.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 646.

    There is something terrifying about someone who can't be reasoned with, religion won't change no matter what evidence is presented. It's almost like an artificial intelligence that has misinterpreted it's programming; they think they're acting out the wishes of their creator, although there isn't a god. I'd take a secular tyrant rather than an over zealous religious extremists any day of the week

  • rate this

    Comment number 645.

    Just now
    It makes me wonder.
    How many of the U.N are paid off by the U.S to put up with their !?£&

    Did you forget that US collect personal information of UN diplomats to blackmail them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 644.

    If Blair and Bush hadn't rushed into the Iraq war based on sexed up evidence, Obama would be finding it much easier to gain support for military action. It's not his fault that he is struggling, it's his (and our) predecessor. Even so, I can't help but feel that some countries will try and tempt us into war on false pretences purely as an excuse to retaliate against us. Worth remembering.

  • rate this

    Comment number 643.

    President Obama correctly concluded should the use of chemical weapons become an accepted norm of war, it won't be long before it also becomes an accepted norm of terrorism. Along with biological and radiological weapons CWs add an entirely different dimension to conflict raising it to a level that transcends what even the most callous people accept.He owes it to future generations to stop it now

  • rate this

    Comment number 642.

    J. Michael Springmann, formerly chief of the visa section at the U.S. Consulate in Saudi Arabia, has testified that he rejected hundreds of suspicious visa applications by Saudi Arabians.


  • rate this

    Comment number 641.

    2 Minutes ago

    It makes me wonder.
    How many of the U.N are paid off by the U.S to put up with their !?£&"

    Judging by the position held by Russia and China, no one or they are wasting their money, lol.

  • rate this

    Comment number 640.

    What they call aid is probably bribe handouts. Controlling governments to turn a blind eye. Makes sense. Choke hold on anyone helping you, attrition, it's not a new strategy but it worked plenty in the past. This is why we seen to be a race with amnesia, as men are wiped out then babies grow up under new written law and religious books. All say love thy neighbour, as thyself ect.

  • rate this

    Comment number 639.

    How odd is it that America can send drones to NW Pakistan and pick out a single target, or have satelites that can read a number plate and recognize individual facial features yet won't release this so called evidence. It either exists or it doesn't, my guess is it will exist be the time congress votes, with a little bit of help from Mossad and the CIA.


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