WASHINGTON – US President Barack Obama on Sunday praised the deal with Russia that is to rid Syria of its massive chemical weapons stockpile. However, he warned Iran’s leaders not to misinterpret his decision against using force to punish and deter the regime of President Bashar Assad.
“They shouldn’t draw a lesson [from the fact] that we haven’t struck [Syria], to think we won’t strike Iran,” Obama told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. “What they should draw from this lesson is that there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically.”
Obama said in the televised interview that the Iranian crisis was a more direct challenge to America’s national security interests than were recent developments in Syria, even after the use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces against civilians on August 21.
“I think what the Iranians understand is that the nuclear issue is a far larger issue for us than the chemical weapons issue – that the threat against... Israel that a nuclear Iran poses is much closer to our core interests,” Obama said. “That a nuclear arms race in the region is something that would be profoundly destabilizing.”
Obama said that he had exchanged letters with the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, since his inauguration last month.
“My view is that if you have both a credible threat of force, combined with a rigorous diplomatic effort, that, in fact you can strike a deal,” Obama said.
The president’s comments came just a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced a deal in Geneva that would require Syria to identify the whereabouts of its chemical weapons within one week, with destruction of its arsenal beginning in mid-2014.
Officials in the Obama administration admitted that the logistics of the plan had not yet been worked out, and would prove “daunting” to execute, with more than 1,000 tons of chemical arms scattered across the war-ravaged nation.
“We had CENTCOM [the US military’s Central Command] do a quick paper for us before we left about options for security.
Broad parameters, nothing very complex,” said a senior State Department official.
“Even in a regime-controlled area, we would need considerable security. OPCW [The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] would need considerable security for protection of the site, if nothing else.”
Assad has not publicly endorsed the deal, but his government ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention – which bans their production, proliferation and use – last week.
“What concerns us most is that our friends and enemies will take the same lessons from this agreement – they see it as an act of provocative weakness on America’s part,” Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham said in a joint statement. “We cannot imagine a worse signal to send to Iran as it continues its push for a nuclear weapon.”
Obama answered critics of his approach by asserting his interest in “getting the policy right,” as opposed to “style points” meant to demonstrate strength and resolve.
French President François Hollande said on Sunday that a vote in the UN Security Council on a resolution on Syria could be expected by the end of the coming week, but urged the US to maintain military pressure on the Assad regime to keep its commitments.
The US had agreed not to push for the pending UN resolution to include the threat of force if Syria does not comply with its provisions.
Stay on top of the news - get the Jerusalem Post headlines direct to your inbox!