Obama says Syria chemical weapons attack threatens Israel, Jordan

Following release of American intelligence report that found the Assad regime responsible for chemical weapons attack in Damascus, Obama says the United States is looking at limited response, still in the planning process.

By REUTERS
August 30, 2013 22:10
3 minute read.
US President Obama addressing the Syria crisis during a meeting with Baltic leaders, Aug 30, 2013.

Barack Obama speaking about Syria crisis 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

 
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WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama said on Friday the chemical weapons attack in Syria threatened US allies Israel and Jordan and said his preference would have been for the international community to move forward on a response.

Obama said that he is "very clear" Americans are weary of war, but that he nevertheless fully intends on enforcing the world's ban on chemical weapons, vowing a response even if the United States must go it alone.

"It is not in the national security interest of the United States to ignore clear violations of these kinds of international norms," Obama said. "A lot of people think something should be done, but nobody wants to do it."

The president said that he was not entertaining a long military campaign in Syria.

"We are looking at the possibility of a limited, narrow act that would help make sure that not only Syria but others around the world understand that the international community cares about maintaining this international ban," Obama said.

On Wednesday, Obama said the strike will be a "shot across the bow," likely targeting command and control units that are directly involved in the chemical weapons program.

The US has positioned warships in the Eastern Mediterranean, and its defense secretary Chuck Hagel says the army is "ready to go" if the president chooses to conduct a military strike.

Obama hopes to use an unclassified intelligence report released on Friday to make the case for retaliation against the Syrian government.

The report concludes the Assad regime was responsible for the August 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus that killed 1,429 Syrian civilians, including 426 children.

"We can not accept a world where women and children and innocent civilians are gassed on a terrible scale," Obama told reporters at the White House.

Earlier on Friday, US Secretary of State John Kerry assured the American public a US response to chemical weapons use in Syrian would be "limited and tailored" and would not in any way resemble the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, nor its intervention to help topple former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.

"It will not involve any boots on the ground. It will not be open-ended. And it will not assume responsibility for a civil war that is already well underway," Kerry said.

While urging the international community to act against the "crime against humanity" committed by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, Kerry did not present any specifics on a US response and did not lay out a timetable for action.

Obama on Friday morning convened a meeting of his national security team, including Kerry and National Security Adviser Susan Rice, to discuss Syria, a White House official said.

Obama administration officials said the president was willing to go it alone, if necessary, after the British parliament voted late Thursday against a military strike intended to punish the Syrian government. France said on Friday it still backed action in Syria.

Polls show the public is largely opposed to US military action, and after the briefing some lawmakers said they were still not convinced of the need for it. Some questioned whether the Pentagon could afford to attack Syria after spending cuts imposed on the federal government earlier this year.

Administration officials are weighing their options on how to proceed, including possible missile strikes. Obama has said he does not want to get drawn into a protracted conflict, but wants to ensure that chemical weapons are not used again.

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