Obama said in a White House speech that a Russian offer to push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to place chemical weapons under international control offered the possibility of heading off the type of limited military strike he is considering against Syria.
Speaking from theWhite House's East Room, Obama said US and Russian officials would keep talking about the initiative and that he would discuss it with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Meanwhile, he said, he has asked the US Senate to put off a vote on his request for an authorization of military force to let the diplomacy play out. He set no timetables for action, but said any deal with Assad would require verification that he keep his word.
"It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed. And any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments. But this 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 Russian offer put the brakes on a vote in Congress over authorizing military force as lawmakers and the administration sought more time to assess Russia's proposal to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control.
Obama has faced stiff resistance in Congress to any military action and lawmakers on both sides of the issue were quick to seize on the Russian proposal as a possible way out, despite skepticism about its eventual success.
Obama used much of his speech to lay out the case against Syria, saying there was plenty of evidence showing that the Syrian government was behind an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that killed 1,429 people, including more than 400 children.
He argued that Syria should face consequences for using such weapons because much of the world has long since adopted a ban on chemical weapons and that if the civilized world does nothing to respond, it will only embolden US adversaries.
"If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons," said Obama.
A group of Republican and Democratic US senators began drafting a modified resolution on the use of military force that would give the United Nations time to take control of Syria's chemical weapons.
Obama's address on Syria: full transcript
My fellow Americans, tonight I want to talk to you about Syria, why it matters and where we go from here. Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war.
Over 100,000 people have been killed. Millions have fled the country. In that time, America's worked with allies to provide humanitarian support, to help the moderate opposition, and to shape a political settlement, but I have resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else's civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21st, when Assad's government gassed to death over 1,000 people, including hundreds of children. The images from this massacre are sickening: men, women, children lying in rows, killed by poison gas, others foaming at the mouth, gasping for breath, a father clutching his dead children, imploring them to get up and walk.
On that terrible night, the world saw in gruesome detail the terrible nature of chemical weapons and why the overwhelming majority of humanity has declared them off-limits, a crime against humanity and a violation of the laws of war.
This was not always the case. In World War I, American G.I.s were among the many thousands killed by deadly gas in the trenches of Europe. In World War II, the Nazis used gas to inflict the horror of the Holocaust. Because these weapons can kill on a mass scale, with no distinction between soldier and infant, the civilized world has spent a century working to ban them. And in 1997, the United States Senate overwhelmingly approved an international agreement prohibiting the use of chemical weapons, now joined by 189 governments that represent 98 percent of humanity.
On August 21st, these basic rules were violated, along with our sense of common humanity. No one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria. The world saw thousands of videos, cell phone pictures, and social media accounts from the attack, and humanitarian organizations told stories of hospitals packed with people who had symptoms of poison gas.
Moreover, we know the Assad regime was responsible. In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad's chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighborhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces. Shortly after those rockets landed, the gas spread, and hospitals filled with the dying and the wounded.
We know senior figures in Assad's military machine reviewed the results of the attack and the regime increased their shelling of the same neighborhoods in the days that followed. We've also studied samples of blood and hair from people at the site that tested positive for sarin.
When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until those horrifying pictures fade from memory, but these things happened. The facts cannot be denied.
The question now is what the United States of America and the international community is prepared to do about it, because what happened to those people - to those children - is not only a violation of international law, it's also a danger to our security. Let me explain why.
If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield, and it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons and to use them to attack civilians.
If fighting spills beyond Syria's borders, these weapons could threaten allies like Turkey, Jordan and Israel. And a failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken prohibitions against other weapons of mass destruction and embolden Assad's ally, Iran, which must decide whether to ignore international law by building a nuclear weapon or to take a more peaceful path.
This is not a world we should accept. This is what's at stake. And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime's ability to use them, and to make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use.
That's my judgment as commander-in-chief, but I'm also the president of the world's oldest constitutional democracy. So even though I possess the authority to order military strikes, I believed it was right in the absence of a direct or imminent threat to our security to take this debate to Congress. I believe our democracy is stronger when the president acts with the support of Congress, and I believe that America acts more effectively abroad when we stand together. This is especially true after a decade that put more and more war-making power in the hands of the president and more and more burdens on the shoulders of our troops, while sidelining the people's representatives from the critical decisions about when we use force.
Now, I know that after the terrible toll of Iraq and Afghanistan, the idea of any military action - no matter how limited - is not going to be popular. After all, I've spent four-and-a-half years working to end wars, not to start them.
Our troops are out of Iraq. Our troops are coming home from Afghanistan. And I know Americans want all of us in Washington –especially me - to concentrate on the task of building our nation here at home, putting people back to work, educating our kids, growing our middle class. It's no wonder then that you're asking hard questions.
So let me answer some of the most important questions that I've heard from members of Congress and that I've read in letters that you've sent to me. First, many of you have asked, won't this put us on a slippery slope to another war? One man wrote to me that we are still recovering from our involvement in Iraq. A veteran put it more bluntly: This nation is sick and tired of war.
My answer is simple. I will not put American boots on the ground in Syria. I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo. This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective, deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad's capabilities.
Others have asked whether it's worth acting if we don't take out Assad. Now, some members of Congress 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. Even a limited strike will send a message to Assad that no other nation can deliver.
I don't think we should remove another dictator with force. We learned from Iraq that doing so makes us responsible for all that comes next. But a targeted strike can makes Assad - or any other dictator - think twice before using chemical weapons.
Other questions involve the dangers of retaliation. We don't dismiss any threats, but the Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military. Any other - any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day. Neither Assad nor his allies have any interest in escalation that would lead to his demise, and our ally, Israel, can defend itself with overwhelming force, as well as the unshakable support of the United States of America.
Many of you have asked a broader question: Why should we get involved at all in a place that's so complicated and where, as one person wrote to me, those who come after Assad may be enemies of human rights?It's true that some of Assad's opponents are extremists. But al Qaida will only draw strength in a more chaotic Syria if people there see the world doing nothing to prevent innocent civilians from being gassed to death.
The majority of the Syrian people, and the Syrian opposition we work with, just want to live in peace, with dignity and freedom. And the day after any military action, we would redouble our efforts to achieve a political solution that strengthens those who reject the forces of tyranny and extremism.
Finally, many of you have asked, why not leave this to other countries or seek solutions short of force? As several people wrote to me, we should not be the world's policemen.
I agree. And I have a deeply held preference for peaceful solutions. Over the last two years, my administration has tried diplomacy and sanctions, warnings and negotiations, but chemical weapons were still used by the Assad regime.
However, over the last few days, we've seen some encouraging signs, in part because of the credible threat of US military action, as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin. The Russian government has indicated a willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons. The Assad regime has now admitting that it has these weapons and even said they'd join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use.
It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments, but this 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.
I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I'm sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin.
I've spoken to the leaders of two of our closest allies – France and the United Kingdom - and we will work together in consultation with Russia and China to put forward a resolution at the UN Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.
We'll also give UN inspectors the opportunity to report their findings about what happened on August 21st, and we will continue to rally support from allies from Europe to the Americas, from Asia to the Middle East, who agree on the need for action.
Meanwhile, I've ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails. And tonight I give thanks, again, to our military and their families for their incredible strength and sacrifices.
My fellow Americans, for nearly seven decades, the United States has been the anchor of global security. This has meant doing more than forging international agreements; it has meant enforcing them. The burdens of leadership are often heavy, but the world's a better place because we have borne them.
And so to my friends on the right, I ask you to reconcile your commitment to America's military might with the failure to act when a cause is so plainly just.
To my friends on the left, I ask you to reconcile your belief in freedom and dignity for all people with those images of children writhing in pain and going still on a cold hospital floor, for sometimes resolutions and statements of condemnation are simply not enough.
Franklin Roosevelt once said, "Our national determination to keep free of foreign wars and foreign entanglements cannot prevent us from feeling deep concern when ideas and principles that we have cherished are challenged."
Our ideals and principles, 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.
America is not the world's policeman. 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.
That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.
The Damascus regime's alleged use of chemical weapons has sharply altered the US stance toward the Syrian conflict, President Barack Obama said late Tuesday in a 16-minute prime-time television address.
"I have resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else's civil war through force, particularly after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said.
"The situation profoundly changed, though, on August 21, when Assad's government gassed to death over a thousand people, including hundreds of children."
Explaining his plans to order a targeted air strike in response, Obama said there was no doubt that a deadly nerve gas attack took place, and listed evidence of the Syrian regime's responsibility. "The facts cannot be denied," Obama said.
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday asked Congress to delay votes on authorizing military strikes against Syria in order to give Russia time to get Syria to surrender any chemical weapons it possesses, according to US senators.
"What he (Obama) wants is to check out the seriousness of the Syrian and the Russian willingness to get rid of those chemical weapons in Syria. He wants time to check it out," Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin told reporters.
Levin made his remarks after a lunch meeting on Capitol Hill that Obama attended. On Monday, the Senate began debating a resolution backing US military strikes against Syria, which was requested by Obama on Aug. 31.
Obama’s adamant stance on mounting military strikes on Syria especially regardless of the likely Congressional disapproval might lead him to impeachment.
Washington-based author and historian Webster Griffin Tarpley in a Sunday interview with Press TV said he could easily see Barack Obama impeached, if he goes ahead with a plan to launch a military action on Syria especially if the Congress disapproves of this initiative. "The big danger is that Congress will say ‘no’ [to an Obama war authorization on Syria] and then Obama will proceed to bomb. If he does, he will be impeached for sure,” the analyst said.
According to the analyst, it is the Republicans "who hate him [Obama]” pose the biggest threat, as they are "waiting for an opportunity to bring him down.”
Tarpley pointed out that regardless of Washington’s strong pro-Israeli lobby making efforts to force lawmakers into authorizing Obama’s bill giving a green light on military intervention in Syria, the Republicans’ ‘hatred of Obama” is so strong, they will vote against it just to give him a hard time.
Besides, the analyst pointed out that generally, the influence of the main Zionist lobby group in the US, known as American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) has significantly declined recently, and they will be unable to fight the overwhelming majority of the military action opponents. "I think we’re going to find that their influence has fallen fast and that they’ve chosen a battle that they’re destined to lose,” Tarpley said
Added to that, there will definitely be a large number of initially anti-war Democrats who will do their best to stop the bill from passing through the lower house of Congress. Both these factors make Obama’s attempts to enjoy the support of Congress "desperate.”
In a somewhat controversial statement a similar suggestion was voiced by Senator John McCane on Phoenix radio Thursday. He said that "No one wants American boots on the ground. Nor will there be American boots on the ground, because there would be an impeachment of the president if they did that.”
However, McCain is generally for Obama’s decision to mount military strikes on Syria, and in the same interview he has been critical of the President for waiting on the Congress decision. "It’s common sense you don’t warn them and give them plenty of time to disperse,” McCain said.
However, the delay of the Congressional vote is seen by Jeremy Salt, an Associate Professor of Middle East history and politics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, as a graceful way for Obama to "get off the hook” on his unpopular decision on Syria.
In an interview to Voice of Russia, Salt pointed out that "the sequence of events in the last few days enables him to get out of the corner.”
He claims that with the congressional vote delayed indefinitely, and Kerry saying that should Syria put chemical weapons under international control there would be no strike, and Russia, and Syria playing along – it is a perfect timing for Obama to review his position on Syria.
Salt says that this chain of events might have been orchestrated by Russia, Syria, and the USS behind closed doors, not just being unintentional coincidence. Still, in his opinion it is logic, since all the countries realize that any military intervention would lead to a major war, and this is what needs to be prevented.
As of right now, with the congressional vote on hold and a debate on whether the chemical weapons should be put under the international control in progress, there will be no need to decide for or against a strike at the moment. This intermission, according to Salt, is a perfect timeout for Obama to save face and make reasonable decision.