Obama endorses Russian proposal on Syria
on 11/09/2013 09:50:19
In a nationally televised address, the US president offered a rationale for greater US intervention in Syria's sectarian civil war while acknowledging that winning the hearts and minds of Americans to back another Middle East conflict remains a struggle.
The continued erosion of support in Congress for military strikes and the American public's resistance underscored Mr Obama's challenge.
The president said he had asked congressional leaders to delay a vote on a resolution authorising limited military strikes, a step that gives the Russian offer crucial time to work and avoids a potentially debilitating defeat for Mr Obama.
The president told war-weary Americans the use of chemical weapons poses a threat to US security and that America, with modest effort, "can stop children from being gassed to death".
He said he has ordered the US military to remain prepared to carry out attacks if needed, maintaining a credible pressure on Syrian president Bashar Assad.
Directly addressing criticism over his own vow of limited strikes, Mr Obama said some US politicians have said "there's no point in simply doing a pinprick strike in Syria".
"Let me make something clear: the United States military doesn't do pinpricks," the president said. "Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver."
Speaking from the East Room of the White House, Mr Obama recalled the use of deadly chemical weapons in the trenches of the First World War and the Nazi gas chambers of the Second World War in insisting that the international community could not stand by after a chemical weapons attack last month in the suburbs of Damascus.
He blamed the chemical weapons attack squarely on Assad and warned that a failure to act would encourage tyrants and terrorists to use similar weapons.
"Our ideals and principals as well as our national security are at stake in Syria, along with our leadership of a world where we seek to ensure that the worst weapons will never be used," he said.
Polls showed that Americans, wary of another Middle East conflict, oppose the strikes. Lawmakers from both ends of the political spectrum said they would vote against the measure.
Mr Obama said he was sending his top diplomat, secretary of state John Kerry, to Geneva for talks with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. He said he would continue his own discussions with Russian president Vladimir Putin and that the US and its allies would work with Russia and China to secure a UN Security Council resolution "requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control".
He said the Russian initiative "has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad's strongest allies".
But the 16-minute speech generally made the case for military action. His arguments were both practical and emotional.
"If diplomacy now fails and the United States fails to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons ... other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using it.".
Over time, he added, the weapons could threaten US troops as well as allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel.
"America is not the world's policeman," Mr Obama said. "Terrible things happen across the globe, and it is beyond our means to right every wrong. But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act."