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 678.

    "Both events appeared to support... Carla Del Ponte, a member UN commission investigating the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict...interviews with victims appeared to show anti-Assad rebels had used sarin gas. The findings...had surprised her...she stunned Washington and its anti-Assad coalition, which had consistently claimed only the Assad regime possessed and used chemical weapons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 677.

    amazing for a person who was awarded a nobel peace prize he sure wages a lot of war !!?? How does that work ? Why aren't we hearing more news of global warming or that the sky is falling ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 676.

    ...and still he cannot answer the simple question: 'How will firing 500 cruise missiles into Syria improve the situation?'

    For a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize he seems awfully eager to start a war"

    It will make him feel big and powerful. That is how the US sustains itself - power, control and dominion over others. That is its reason-for-being, don't ya know?

  • rate this

    Comment number 675.

    I didn't forget anything.
    Do you not think its possible to pay somebody off and still monitor their activities.
    Oh please

  • rate this

    Comment number 674.

    BBC (tv) to their credit covered John McCain's town hall meeting. Two Syrian/American women spoke, only one got coverage so here is a link to the second's engagement with McCain http://youtu.be/8x_vusWz33c close to 147,000 hits since yesterday.

    A note - if a post is off topic then BBC rules state they can remove

    Worth reading http://consortiumnews.com/2013/09/06/obama-warned-on-syrian-intel/

  • rate this

    Comment number 673.

    655. Al Gore - don't think I don't recognise your alias and the fact that you've been posting your socialist ideology nonsense on this board for days. I think there's one thing everyone on this board can agree on and that is that there's more chance of Putin contacting Obama and asking for forgiveness for not siding with the US than you putting a sock in it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 672.

    If this is about Syrian people, then the only option is full invasion, as striking Assad time has long passed and now it would only help Al-Qaeda.
    I supported Iraq invasion knowing WMDs were never the reason, just like chemical weapons are not the reason now. Saddam killed thousands (not hundreds) with chemicals and the US (and west) took exactly the same line Russia is taking now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 671.

    I don't care if they have pics of Assad loading the chemicals himself, this is a vicious, sectarian, civil war. The so called good guys, the rebels that is, are a collection of Muslim fundamentalists, who are committing war crimes as we speak. One side is as bad as the other, stay out and let them get on with it. The ME is an intractable problem that may not be solved in generations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 670.

    633. chinkinthearmour,

    I've read lots of comment on the Syria crisis but I've never seen anyone claiming that, "The equation is simple," when trying to analyse that brutal and complex conflict.

    Even this one incident of the chemical weapons attack is incredibly complex, with both sides claiming the other was responsible for it and countless conflicting opinions about it outside Syria.

  • rate this

    Comment number 669.

    Arthur, 648: If you knew Rogozin (& I do) -- if you had read his books -- you would be in no hurry to quote this bigot. Some of his views are completely unprintable. Yes, he is a racist, to put it politely. He is also an extremely loose cannon who hopes to gain Putin's job. Assad = tail wagging dog who is Putin.Assad started this mess&is the reason it's still going on.He won't leave unless removed

  • rate this

    Comment number 668.

    All very fine, Mr President, but in taking the sort of military action you must be considering, could you not be making matters much worse. Your country's citizens, like those in the UK and France, seem to be singing from another hymn sheet. Assad's military assets are by now probably well dispersed and hardened or both. The Russians are beginning to deploy military force to the region.Enough said

  • rate this

    Comment number 667.

    Here is a very interesting article that I doubt will be picked up by the mainstream media: http://consortiumnews.com/2013/09/06/obama-warned-on-syrian-intel/

  • rate this

    Comment number 666.

    once again we see warmongers like Cameron and obhama claiming proof but never producing any proof just like all their other illegal wars. Well the Public have had enough of the lies of the rich warmongers only intrested in ensuring their mates make even more money out of the deaths of innocents. Don't turn a blind eye to the lies of the west with no proof ever produced

  • rate this

    Comment number 665.

    According to the Superior General of the Jesuits, by intending to bomb Syria to enforce international law, the United States and France arrogate to themselves a responsibility they don’t have, violating precisely that same law. Washington and Paris are planning to lead humanity towards barbarism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 664.

    Things have been done for a reason.Look for motive?Oil pipeline?Assad not playing the game?Shot across the bow?All out war WW3? Warmongers in office? Greed on the cards? I see nobody helping the Buddhists?They don't have gold though so turn the blind eye. Siks have been attacked in our streets?spat on? Where is their justice Mr Cameron. They live here in peace with us. This world is ran by TYRANTS

  • rate this

    Comment number 663.

    No one should ignore what is happening but he/USA has to except as the majority of true Brits have that there is no point intervening in the Moslem world.When intervention has occurred,half of a countries population welcomes it then turns on a six pence and resents the action.Best all round USA and us leave Moslems to themselves,they are right on this issue no interference needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 662.

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha LMAO I can't believe my comment where all I wrote was I am going to use ESP because my comments keep disappearing and if that one disappears I will know the thought police have arrived - so any of you that can actually read this consider yourselves lucky cos it won't be here for long. Unbelievable -BBC you have gone too far - An official complaint is coming your way.

  • rate this

    Comment number 661.

    @627.Lord Horror

    yes indeed, even if "evidence" is ever presented it will require verification & peer-review, the world won't buy another blair-bush-powell ticket.

    the Eton & Oxford educated blair-wannabee called cameron kept referring to "growing" evidence in Syria.

    Evidence IS or IS NOT, its either true or false.

    Evidence is NOT organic,it doesn't "grow".

    Oxford educated cameron. Cringing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 660.

    635. Dave1506

    I don't deny that, but in the space HYS provides me I was discussing the unjustifiable block Putin has put on international cooperation. I could have referred to the injustices of past colonialism, US action in Vietnam, Russian invasion of Afghanistan followed by the Americans, but I'm not up to writing a book right now.

  • rate this

    Comment number 659.

    Wherever we've stepped in somewhere the net result is UK dead, UK debt increased, no increased trade and no gratitude.

    The rest of the world takes and never gives... about time we cottoned on to the sad reality... look after your own and no one else


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