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 1018.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 1017.

    Look at what the west have done to Somalia, Libya, Mali, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Afgainstan, Sudan and many other countries created a war and many people are dying while they are laughing at them. All the people in the middle east and Africa need stand up for peace not a war without the west all the west want is resource and power

  • rate this

    Comment number 1016.

    USA has its ego at stake, with the amount of rant that it has created it would be a crushing blow to its herculean image created post cold war.
    Who would come out winner at the end, only time will tell.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1015.

    "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...All of which would pose a serious threat to our national security."

    So, the main reason to intervene Syria is to continue the war on terror? Wasn't it to defend Syrians?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1014.

    Obama should give Putin his Nobel Prize.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1013.

    So Obama still wants to support Al Qaeda terrorists by killing innocent Syrians by cruise missile

    Straw man argument, thats not what Obama wants, whether it would be an unintentional consequence of whatever the miltary planners come with remains to be seen, it has been in the past but one hopes they'll have learnt from past mistakes

  • rate this

    Comment number 1012.

    Some in the international community want to punish Assad for CW. Some want to help remove Assad. Why ? Is this really about Iran ?
    What is the issue with Iran ? It's either because of a long term unfounded fear of Iran & or because of Iran's oil bourse plans. Russia was probably concerned for itself but should not worry & is starting to realise this must be about Iran. China relies on Iran oil.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1011.

    Israel also supported the invasion of Iraq and with enthusiasm.


    Lawrence Wilkerson, Chief of staff of former secretary of state reveals that large number of senior Israeli officials warned Bush administration that invasion of Iraq would be destabilizing to region.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1010.

    909. Truth logic sustainability the final frontiers
    913. TrueToo
    898. Alex:

    I would like to thank you and others for your responses to my post.

    Sometimes, one wonders if it is worth taking the effort to post as there is a distinct feeling that no one listens

    I am doubly grateful that those who responded did not feel they had to resort to military action to make their voices heard

  • rate this

    Comment number 1009.

    The US are still intent on over throwing the regime in Syria, stating the use of chemical weapons for which evidence is still required. Yet, aid the rebels, who recently were also accused of using chemical weapons plus, as seen in today's Times Newspaper, executed government troops. What message is the US president trying to get across to back his decision. Balire - Bush all over again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1008.

    World faithful fast and pray for peace in Syria..

    All the world is praying and crying to stop the USA madness..

    Where is the BBC cover??

  • rate this

    Comment number 1007.

    Is this the result of the bilderberg group meeting? War in Syria...what the hell is really going on?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1006.

    986. Tomtom
    "Odd thing about many of these comments is that they miss Obama's purpose. He is no warmongering Bush. He does feel the need to enforce international law. In this case, his conclusion is that military action is the only route to do that. Difficult to disagree."

    But then, it is difficult to see why the "rebel" side should be exempted from the similar punishment.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1005.

    984 Rebecca Riot

    I can only echo what JohnBA has said. The world right now would be a far better place if it was Obama being targetted. Assad has caused a civil war. Obama seems intent on starting world war 3. I know who I think is the bigger clown right now.

    Putin is beginning to look positively civilized.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1004.

    Cannot turn a blind eye? The US has no difficulty turning a blind eye to Israel's breaches of International Law. Since 1991, the Russians have used the veto in the UN twice, the US about 50 times. Wonder why that is? Pots and Kettles, Obama.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1003.

    @874 rowdie. That is not the position of Russia or China

  • rate this

    Comment number 1002.

    950 Former UK warrior. You have to ask why they hate us, and if you are an ex you know exactly the reason for that. Keep out of it agreed but the likes of the UK government and military may have played some part in starting this in the first place. How many mercenary ex British Soldiers have been involved in Syria, Afghanistan and Libya., you must know this.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1001.

    Innocents have long been killed in Syria, but now it is different because the means by which death occurred is gas/germ instead of bullet/bomb? The end result is the same - innocents dead. Please assure me that our national interest in this issue lies on more than simply the means by which innocents are slaughtered - but 2 years into the conflict I guess that would be too much to ask.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1000.

    Comment number 78 is an Editors' Pick
    7 Hours ago

    As expected since the vote in parliament we have been bombarded with insults like "its a small island and nobody cares what they say" & other comments

    Your new master Putin was the one who said, "It's a small island that nobody pays any attention to" so I mean even after all your support for him & Assad, he thinks Britain is "Wasted"!

  • rate this

    Comment number 999.

    986. Tomtom

    "He does feel the need to enforce international law".

    All fine & good, but WHO set off the "chemical"???


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