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 978.

    If Syrian leader Assad ordered the use of CW... then Syria is guilty of using CW.
    If the Rebels used CW... then the Rebels are guilty of using CW within an 'innocent' Syria.

    Obama is turning a blind eye to a possibility that the Rebels are the guilty party.
    Who can have faith in a President with only one eye on the job in hand?

  • rate this

    Comment number 977.

    The thing that puzzles me about this is that surely if you fire chemical weapons into what appears to be a residential area there is a high risk you will kill your own people or supporters - for example if the wind changes. Is it possible this is an example of sheer incompetence on the part of the Syrian military rather than the deliberate use of chemical weapons - what distinguishes a CW shell ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 976.

    The UN inspectors had no mandate to find out who was responsible ..only to verify that chemical weapons were used. Am I the only one to find that more than odd?

    They're technical people, assigning responsibility is political not technical. they'll try & ascertain what type of weapon was used & whether it was 'proper munitions' or 'cobbled together' & how/where from it was delivered

  • rate this

    Comment number 975.

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

    Civil war?"

    In Spanish Civil war (before WW2) the picture was similar - there was plenty of non-Spaniards in both sides, and arms supply from outside to both sides was strong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 974.

    Thank you MattyBoy @ 938 and Ben777zzz @ 942 for responding.

    I note neither mention chemical weapons or humanitarian motives.

    "..the need for the West to keep the balance of power in its favour."

    ".. the petrodollar... US ambitions to marginalise Russian influence in Europe....the interests of Israel are a primary concern to the Americans....Or maybe Kerry now supports Syrian Al-Qaeda?"

  • Comment number 973.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 972.

    Britain a small and cowardly Nation? Tripe from nasty little creatures who do fit that description.
    Tell that to the countries and armies we defeated for as long as records exist. Old Bob has an excellent point, the cost of firing one missile, or activating our jets. How many schools hospitals, libraries indeed can be built or renovated for that money.
    Let the very rich Arab League resolve this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 971.

    Everybody should petition to have bunkers in every street, stocked with chemical suits,Rations for everybody. If they want us to live under a mushroom cloud, play the game. It's cheaper not to have war, but leaders who lead towards peace. We could all see the world, if we all just stand and vote. I want a future, not bunkers. Hope not ego's, a choice for all, that we all agree on. World vote 2013

  • rate this

    Comment number 970.

    Dear Barak Husein,

    You may well get rapturous applause on the Chat Shows, but that DOES NOT mean that you are fit to be a national or International leader.

  • rate this

    Comment number 969.

    John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi shmoozing Assad a few years ago ->


    this reminds me of what they did to Gaddafi - one year shaking hands with obama at UN all smiles, next year obama is bombing Libya to bits with NATO -

    terrible hypocrisy and thuggery

    you can tell the agenda, UK politicians desperate to get back in war game

  • rate this

    Comment number 968.

    The number of politicians who one can trust not to lie to you or who have sound judgement is rapidly approaching zero.

  • rate this

    Comment number 967.

    It'a an indictment of our leaders capability that they back themselves into a corner then take actions (party) for political reasons. Sad to say the media, non less than the BBC, drives this and makes large of the politics - "Was Cameron harmed' was the thrust of reports following our parliament's vote on Syria - then it reports on 'what Tony Blair says' - now there's an appalling joke!

  • rate this

    Comment number 966.

    O'bomber. Hand back the peace prize.

  • rate this

    Comment number 965.

    854 Matty

    Comrade. I have never had tea at the Kremlin with Mr P and I don't think you have either. What most people are commenting on is that he appears to be showing some common sense. Furthermore, the USA aren't exactly the boy scouts when it comes to their own interests being challenged

  • rate this

    Comment number 964.

    So Obama still wants to support Al Qaeda terrorists by killing innocent Syrians by cruise missile. Despite being anti war, a Nobel Peace prize winner and having no tangible evidence that Assad even used chemical weapons?!

    Where is the logic or sense in any of that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 963.

    @956. BRD

    @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
    But the "productive economy" is largely based on war, a very unproductive activity, it's false productivity.

  • Comment number 962.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 961.

    BBC used to be my favourite news website, because it showed objective, informative, and concise coverage of news. However, the coverage for Syrian crisis has absolutely been nothing but warmongering. The British Parliament has already spoken and the majority of political powers at G20 summit have voted against the intervention. BBC stop being sycophantic and desperate to follow what Obomber wants

  • rate this

    Comment number 960.

    943. Rob_NW If Assad didn't know his government should be looking at finding out who ordered the strike. If Assad did know, wise move would be to place blame. In both cases who actually followed the orders to strike should have refused.

  • rate this

    Comment number 959.

    The pro Assad Regime people are thick on here as usual, undermining Britain??

    It is plainly obvious there is a propaganda war in progress. It is amazing that some British folk are joining in with it. Repeating the propaganda lines themselves, undermining their own country?

    Some folk must be very disenchanted and at odds with their own nation to do such a thing? Astonishing misbehaviour


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