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Obama conditionally backs offer on Syria

By Donna Cassata

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 04:47 a.m. HST, Sep 11, 2013

WASHINGTON » President Barack Obama conditionally endorsed a Russian offer for international inspectors to seize and destroy deadly chemical weapons in Syria as efforts to avert retaliatory U.S. missile strikes shift from Washington to the United Nations.

In a nationally televised address Tuesday night, Obama offered a rationale for greater U.S. intervention in a sectarian civil war that has dragged on for more than two years even while acknowledging that winning the hearts and minds of Americans to back another Mideast conflict remains a struggle.

The continued erosion of support in Congress for military strikes -- and the resistance among the American people -- underscored Obama's challenge. The president said he had asked congressional leaders to delay a vote on a resolution authorizing limited military strikes, a step that gives the Russian offer crucial time to work and avoids a potentially debilitating defeat for Obama, at least for the time being.

Speaking from the East Room of the White House, Obama recalled the use of deadly chemical weapons in the European trenches of World War I and the Nazi gas chambers of World War II in insisting that the international community could not stand by after an attack in the suburbs of Damascus last month the administration says killed more than 1,400 civilians, including at least 400 children. The Obama administration blames the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

"If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons," Obama said. "As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas" and using it.

The president said it was too early to say whether the Russian offer would succeed, and any agreement must ensure that the Syrian government was fulfilling its commitments.

However, the "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," the president said.

Obama said he was sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday in Geneva, while he will continue talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the same time, Obama said the United States and its allies would work with Russia and China to present a resolution to the United Nations Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.

In the interim, the military will be ready, maintaining a credible pressure on Assad. Directly addressing criticism over his own vow of limited strikes, Obama said some lawmakers 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."

The speech capped a frenetic 10 days that began with military action seeming imminent until Obama unexpectedly announced he would seek congressional authorization for the use of force against Assad. Congressional opposition from an unusual coalition of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats stalled the commander in chief's push for authority as lawmakers challenged the administration's contention that U.S. national security interests were at stake.

Obama also struggled in building international support for a military attack designed to degrade Assad's ability to use chemical weapons.

Assad's patron, Russia, has blocked U.S. attempts to rally the U.N. Security Council behind a military strike. But Monday, after an off-the-cuff remark by Kerry, it spoke favorably about requiring Syria to surrender control of its chemical weapons, and the Syrian foreign minister did likewise.

The foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, said Tuesday that his government was ready to turn over its chemical weapons stockpile in line with Russia's proposal in order "to thwart U.S. aggression." He also said Syria was prepared to sign an international chemical treaty it long has rejected -- a step it can take on its own at any time without U.S. or U.N. supervision.

Syria has refused to provide an accounting of the size of its stockpile, rarely referring in public to its existence. According to an unclassified estimate by the French government, it includes more than 1,000 tons of "chemical agents and precursor chemicals," including sulfur mustard, VX and sarin gas.

Obama used Tuesday's 16-minute speech to deliver a point-by-point rebuttal to critics of his military plans.

Acknowledging the weariness the nation feels after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama said, "America is not the world's policeman."

And yet, he added: "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. That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional."

"Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria," he declared.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers cautiously welcomed the Russian offer as not only a means to avoid U.S. military involvement but also a way to avoid casting a difficult vote on use of force. After a flurry of briefings the last week, an all-senators briefing scheduled for tosday was canceled as events moved quickly.

Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he was hopeful that a diplomatic solution could be reached while skeptical of Russia's offer.

"A credible threat of military force will have to remain on the table if diplomatic efforts are to have any hope of succeeding," he said.

But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., an outspoken critic of involvement in Syria, said Americans "want nothing to do with the Syrian civil war. We fail to see a national security interest in a war between a leader who gasses his own citizens and Islamic rebels who are killing Christians."

Associated Press writers Julie Pace and David Espo contributed to this report.

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Publicbraddah wrote:
KSSK's Michael W. Perry still insists the option to Syria to avert strikes against his country was an "accident". Perry is a fairly bright fellow but unless he has insiders in Washington, he's only guessing. And since he can guess, so can I. My guess is that the Obama administration was looking for a way out of this mess. The majority of Americans do not want to enter another war, By the same token, most Americans feel the chemical weapon attack on its own citizens was deplorable and not doing anything was not an option. This "accident" offered by John Kerry was immediately jumped on by Russia's Putin who has great influence over Syria. This option buys more time to determine what to do with Syria. America was in a tenuous position because Al Qaida's influence in the rebel forces made it tough to support them. If anything, this buys more time to strategize against Assad. This was no "accident", Michael.
on September 11,2013 | 06:21AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
Agreed. I'm still not convinced that the Syrian government was responsible as no evidence/proof has been disclosed to the American public. Since Al Qaida's SOP is to strap bombs on their women and children, I find the possibility that the rebels did this to themselves to simply pull the US in against Assad very believable...
on September 11,2013 | 07:24AM
jayz43 wrote:
“The smartest man in the room” has been reduced to a puppet controlled by puppeteer Putin who relishes in making The Amateur “act stupidly”, dangling the chemical weapons carrot, taking it off the table, then adding untenable strings attached, and the world is his witness. THAT was not accident.
on September 11,2013 | 07:54AM
cojef wrote:
If it was not an accident, it must have been an afterthought, since it would have been the saner course to follow, than the initial back-up of the "red-line" stand made over a year ago, and than to pursue Congressional approval. Then again, it begs the question, it would have avoided the possibilties of a "no confidence" vote by the Congress. Another scenario, should Congress vote against any military strikes, what then, would the President proceed with his threat. Then on the other hand, if the President's snubbing of the Putin prior to the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg was pre-planned to set the stage for Russian involvement in the surrendering by the Syrians of all gas weaponry adds to the scenario of the intrigue. To continue in that line of thought, the two leaders did meet, although informally, an agreement or a request could have been planted by the President for Russian involvement. There is much more than meets the eye, as the speeches made by the Secretary of State changes from firebrand needs for military strikes, to passively requiring Congressional okay, then to explosive oratory for the need that Congress give go ahead. This from a dove during the Vietnam War era to the hawish Secretary. The irony of character change.
on September 11,2013 | 08:39AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Obama has turned over leadership of the free world to Russia.
on September 11,2013 | 07:59AM
cojef wrote:
Don't believe Putin would accept being the leader of the free world. For the Russians there is no freedom, only oligarchy, further their economy could not sustain, policing the entire world. Only in America, we like to flaunt our democracy and boss the rest of the world with words and no action. We like to pick and choose who will administer or benevolent humanity to, based on our national economic interests. We hardly raised any cries for the genocide that was occurring in the Sudan or the mass murders taking place in Somalia. The question begs the question why Syria? Then the picture becomes clear, to protect Israel. This gas issue scares us all, but more so the Israelis. How the senators and representative react pro or con for military action may be interesting to study.
on September 11,2013 | 08:59AM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
Nope Russia has become a pawn for Obama. Like it or not, Russia now owns the solution. Its their idea to have Syria give up their weapons they have to set the stage for this to happen. Obama can claim that it was his threat to bomb is what drove Syria and Russia to the table and what will lead to Syria giving up it chemical weapons, the very weapons that threaten Israel, our closest ally in the middle east. Now of course if anyone believes that Syria will actually to this, I have some beachfront land in Puna I want to sell you. Russia and Syria will just drag this on for a couple of weeks to months. The UN members will insist on a verifiable regiment for disarmament that Syria nor Russia will agree to. Syria will never give up its chemical arsenal when there is a nuclear armed Israel next door. Its the only credible threat they have. So after a month or so on inaction, Obama can point to Syria and say, rightly so, that this was just a ruse, they were never serious, and it bombs away time. Obama avoids losing the congressional vote, puts the pressure on Russia to get Syria to comply (which they won't), and he still has the bombing card to play down the road, with his hand strengthened by Syrian misconduct. Obama wins.
on September 11,2013 | 09:25AM
jayz43 wrote:
David Burge: With Putin, Obama now appointing actual Czars.
on September 11,2013 | 03:23PM
Ronin006 wrote:
Obama vowed to take punitive military action against Syria for its use of chemical weapons to kill 1,400 of its citizens including about 400 children and pulled out all the stops in his efforts to get congress to approve the use of force. He now has done a complete flip-flop and will not take military action if Syria turns over its chemical weapons to some international organization. How does that punish Syria for killing 1,400 people with chemical weapons? The Obama administration’s spin on this new “initiative” has the entire world very dizzy.
on September 11,2013 | 08:09AM
ryan02 wrote:
Who is the U.S. supposed to "punish"? Do you really think that the U.S. is planning to kill Assad himself? Instead, we'll end up killing 1,400 Syrians to "punish" Assad for killing 1,400 Syrians. If the goal is to stop Syria from using chemical weapons again, we need to take the weapons away. "Punishment" is not effective, even if it makes Rambo-types feel like their "shoe" size is bigger. The U.S. should focus on how best to take the weapons away -- maybe diplomacy would work? Maybe a military strike would work. But "punishment" should not be the goal.
on September 11,2013 | 08:50AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
How long before Kerry's wife gets sick and he has to resign to spend more time with family?
on September 11,2013 | 08:12AM
serious wrote:
Who in their right mind would want to work for the Messiah!!! Which side of the mouth do you listen to?
on September 11,2013 | 08:33AM
jayz43 wrote:
I am always disappointed when he speaks, and his pants don't catch on fire.
on September 11,2013 | 03:25PM
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