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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  • Comment number 958.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 957.

    939 "May we have enlightened leaders in the 21st century"

    The word "leaders" is part of the problem. It gives politicians ideas above their station.
    In a representative democracy, such as we have in Britain, they are not our "leaders".
    They are only our representatives, and temporary ones at that!

  • rate this

    Comment number 956.

    @924. No it doesn't. It simply reaches it's borrowing ceiling which is a Congress imposed limit. They can simply raise it and inevitably will. US debt is high but manageable within the context of their $15bn plus productive economy which is showing welcome growth. Noteworthy US gov expenditure is only 24% of GDP compared with 40-60% in Europe. Don't believe everything u read on daft web sites.

  • rate this

    Comment number 955.


    "* and dismiss the opinion of the rest of the world apart from Israel."

    An attack on Syria, resulting in even more chaos on Israel's border and empowering the Israel-hating jihadi rebels, is NOT in the interests of the Israeli government and people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 954.

    As the security council is made up of countries with opposing ideologies and differing agendas we find that the UN can be made impotent by a veto

    There is in my mind no need to rush in as that in the long run will not aid the Syrians but, instead further the agenda of one or more on the security council

    Sometimes you must let the fire burn itself out Just make sure your own fence is well watered

  • rate this

    Comment number 953.

    Once again; no actual proof of this 'chemical weapon genocide' has been provided. All we've had is more emotive, simplified, sanctimonious rhetoric from the politicos regarding 'bad arabs' doing 'nasty things', as the 'justification' for stepping in and being 'responsible global citizens'. The UN says they need to follow the western democratic model, but who elected the UN? Wake up people..

  • rate this

    Comment number 952.

    Why exactly are people calling this a civil war? This is not a civil war at all.

    It all started when a terrorist group decided to start shooting and blow stuff up. This progressed to more largely disconnected groups doing the same.

    This is not an uprising by the people against their government.

    Many of the rebels now fighting in Syria aren't even Syrian.

    Civil war?

  • rate this

    Comment number 951.

    Germany (Westerwelle and Merkel) --have plenty of wiggle room to agree with everybody --and say NO !

    ""I have again pressed for the UN Security Council to give a mandate to the ICC to examine the chemical attack in Syria," he said on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Russia's Saint Petersburg."


  • rate this

    Comment number 950.

    From a UK former warrior
    the reason that we do not want to enter Syria is fairly simple but politicians in general do not have the courage or honesty to state it, opinions of ordinary people.
    Both Muslim sides in this bloody mayhem absolutely hate us.
    Normal UK AND US people will not to see our troops being slaughtered by hate filled religious bigots who deserve each other.
    Keep out resolutely.

  • rate this

    Comment number 949.

    923 Inchindown. I think your first comment is very valid , ie The west only reached a state of political equilibrium after centuries of conflict.. There is a conflict going on in the Islamic world and the target is many of the old style dictstorships. The problem is that over the years those same dictatorships have bought the best and most lethal weaponry to maintain the status quo - a La Syria

  • rate this

    Comment number 948.

    I would like to say that Mr Obama and the French president are doing the right thing in tacking military action against Assad's regime I mean by him getting to the point of using chemical weapons against his own people on top of all the massacres he has done for the last 2 years without anyone of the ruling countries getting involved he could use it again against who he wishes if no one stops him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 947.

    @927 You are correct at the moment the UN is starting to resemble the League of Nations around the time that Mussolini was invading Abyssinia for mere reasons of colonialism. And look what happened after that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 946.

    So although most people see Assad as the target
    who is actually the target?


    Getting involved in Syrian war could lead to boots on the ground like Iraq and we have all seen what happened with that

    The world mad at us, loss of lives+money, loss of our privacy, etc

    Another Iraq war would tear USA to pieces
    plus helping Syrian rebels is also helping al Qaeda

    The target is us

  • rate this

    Comment number 945.

    Is it just me, or is the logo for the Russian G20 summit an S-300 missile launcher? Gave me a laugh, was that intended? How appropriate!

  • Comment number 944.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 943.

    U.S. intelligence services are still trying to work out who ordered the poison gas attack on rebel-held neighborhoods near Damascus. No direct link to President Assad has been publicly demonstrated, and some U.S. sources say intelligence experts are not sure whether the Syrian leader knew of the attack before it was launched

  • rate this

    Comment number 942.

    @928 SomethingToSay Possibly because the main threat to USA, and the petrodollar is Russia. By blocking Qatari and Saudi attempts to run an LNG pipeline through Syria to the Med, Assad is standing in the way of American ambitions to marginalise Russian influence in Europe. And the interests of Israel are a primary concern to the Americans, as always. Or maybe Kerry now supports Syrian Al-Qaeda?

  • Comment number 941.

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

  • Comment number 940.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 939.

    Over two thousand years ago on the road to Damascus Saul of Tarsus had an epiphany . He saw the Light and became St. Paul. May we have enlightened leaders in the 21st century. The people of the Middle East have suffered enough.


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