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 838.

    #809 and others.It is possible a chemical shell did not detonate before landing (air burst). Would have been damaged on impact.Good luck with that. If the syrian rebels are behind all of these,how is the chemical being produced et al and where are the delivery system for the shells? Why not use them even now? So logic implies that threat of force has now stopped them.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 837.

    Whilst the US (and the rest of the civilised world) should not turn a blind eye to atrocities anywhere they should not intervene by force. There can be condemnation, sanctions and - in appropriate cases - UN approved involvement, but nothing else. Obama needs to concentrate on problems in the US and leave others to sort out their own problems.

  • rate this

    Comment number 836.

    In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks over a million people in the middle east rallied in support of the U.S. including in Iran. At that time the world stood at a crossroad and the U.S. had the opportunity to STOP the development of terrorism by not engaging in war. Instead many civilians have been killed by all parties and many more have been recruited into terrorism as a result.

  • rate this

    Comment number 835.

    822. KotDivuar
    What kind of idiocy I see? What more proof do you need? Chemical weapons have always been in the hands of the ruling regime"

    Please show me this "proof". It's been weeks and I have yet to see any proof at all. Why would Assad use chemical weapons knowing full well the USA would launch an attack. He would have nothing to gain and everything to lose. It's a false flag.

  • rate this

    Comment number 834.

    Conspiracy Theorists - delusional American Haters to the left (The Highest Rated Side)

    Realists and true Anti War (Strikes to prevent more war) campaigners to the right (The Lowest Rated Side)

  • rate this

    Comment number 833.

    The middle east is as unstable as the Balkans were in 1914. In 1914 no one wanted war but one thing led to another and WW1 kicked off. Forward to the present day, no one wants a war but it wouldn't take much to start one. Before committing their countries to get involved in Syria's civil war Obama and Putin want to look very carefully at history, it has a nasty habit of repeating itself.

  • rate this

    Comment number 832.

    The reality is: innocent people have been killed including children. What do you feel if any of those killed are your own family. Millions of innocent Syrians are fleeing the country taking nothing other than clothes they wear, through fear of being killed. Should it not be the responsibility of the rulers to protect their citizens? If it does not happen keeping quiet seems to the answer.

  • rate this

    Comment number 831.

    Al-Qaeda'a new Commander-in-Chief: Barack Obomber

  • rate this

    Comment number 830.

    820.Maria Ashot
    in the last few years the good ole USA has held the UN security council in Limbo over the state next door to Syria against the wished of the world community so it would seem they are both as bad as each other Putin has rightly said stop pushing the answer is No whether we like it or not makes no difference Obama reminds me of a school bully screaming I'll get my mates.

  • rate this

    Comment number 829.

    822. KotDivuar
    If tomorrow the West did not respond to Assad that would mean the end of Western civilization. West loses its position in the world forever.
    That would also happen if we went in without rocksolid evidence. It would probably cause much more damage,

  • rate this

    Comment number 828.

    702. Bradford:

    "The real justification is probably the Israel lobby in America. So the whole world dances to the tune of 8 million people."

    Israel has zero to gain from Syrian chaos. The rebels might even hate Israel more than Assad does.


  • rate this

    Comment number 827.

    Watching the US now is like watching the fall of Diocletian Rome, or the last days in the FuhrerBunker. A discredited empire, with a massively debased currency, mass poverty and inequality, waging pointless wars in an attempt to maintain their dwindling resources and place in the world. Unfortunately they still have the power to cause much harm as they descend into fascism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 826.

    Lets divide Syria in half. They will never forgive each other.

  • rate this

    Comment number 825.

    ms dr @801
    respecting majority views"?

    Think on a little. If 'the people' are (all) still to be 'be around', to enjoy the fruits of 'rule of, for, by the people', we need to understand that REAL democracy - NOT to allow '51% to enslave or slay 49%' - would mean 'rule AGREED as of, for, by the ENDURING and EQUAL people'

    Dun Geonson @802 asks 'why' (things go so badly wrong). See above

  • rate this

    Comment number 824.

    803. essexash lieing. Try spelling it lying.

    I don't believe that there was a point in time when the US sanctioned the use of military force with the express intention of causing civilian casualties/deaths. That's not to say that I don't think they knew civilians would be caught up in their actions, but nonetheless, I reiterate, I do not believe they sought to deliberately kill non-comatants.

  • rate this

    Comment number 823.

    TrueToo @ 776

    If, in your opinion, Israel has no influence on the American administration, why is Kerry and Obama so involved in the internal politics of Syria that they are prepared to:

    * bye-pass the UN,
    * ignore the wishes of the American electorate
    * and dismiss the opinion of the rest of the world apart from Israel.

    And have you considered the value of an air corrider to Iran?

  • rate this

    Comment number 822.

    What kind of idiocy I see? What more proof do you need? Chemical weapons have always been in the hands of the ruling regime, and even if it was stolen how do you imagine the rebels could use it?
    If tomorrow the West did not respond to Assad that would mean the end of Western civilization. West loses its position in the world forever.

  • rate this

    Comment number 821.

    The US has already turned a blind eye.

  • rate this

    Comment number 820.

    Putin is also pandering to the Twenty-Five Percent Communist votes he relies on to keep himself in power. This is bad news for Russians as well as Assad's victims. Those of you who think Putin is"being honourable"should think twice about how wise it is to have the UN & the planet's future controlled by a small club of Old-School Soviet Kooks of the kind that march around with ikons of"Saint"Stalin

  • rate this

    Comment number 819.

    50. Yes but ask yourself why? Big business and wealth rule this world so the BBC has merely caved in to them as Tony Blair was bought. Blair was once noble, was anti poverty, he was anti Vietnam war in his time.

    Now look at him.

    Finance Capitalism is behind this act of aggression by the USA.

    Capitalist fundamentalism is behind this new World order of poverty and war.


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