Obama On Lack Of American Support For Attack On Syria: They Are Not With Me ‘Yet’

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WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) – On Monday evening, President Barack Obama sat down for an interview with CBS Evening News correspondent Scott Pelley, during which he addressed questions regarding a proposed strike against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad for the reported use of chemical weapons against rebel factions in Damascus.

Many lawmakers in both parties oppose Obama’s request for Congress to authorize using military force against Syria for a deadly Aug. 21 chemical gas attack the Obama administration blames on Assad and his administration. Citing intelligence reports, the administration reported 1,429 people died, including 426 children.

During the interview, Obama continued to defend his position, as well as his actions to date.

“I have shown great restraint, I think, over the last two years, despite the heartbreak that’s happened there,” Obama told CBS News. “But what I have said is that the ban on chemical weapon use is something that is of U.S. national interest.”

He added, “It protects our troops, so that they don’t have to wear gas masks whenever they’re in theater, the weapons by definition are indiscriminate and don’t differentiate between somebody in uniform and a child.”

Obama also stated that he feels it is “important for the international community and the United States to stand up and say, ‘This cannot happen’ … when we see images of 400-plus children being slaughtered without a mark on their body through these weapons.”

Secretary of State John Kerry recently suggested a new proposal that would have Syria turn over its stockpiles of chemical weapons to stave off the possibility of an attack. On that subject, Pelley asked Obama if the sole agreement acceptable to him was one where the nation could know for sure that all chemical weapons currently in Syria’s possession had been destroyed.

Obama replied that he feels it is presently “premature for [him] to start drafting language.”

“I think I want to see what exactly is being proposed, and in the interim, it is very important for Congress and the American people to recognize that we would not be getting even ticklers like this if it weren’t for the fact that we were serious about potentially taking action in the absence of some sort of movement,” he said.

In addition to members of Congress who opposed the proposal, anti-war protesters gathered outside the White House on Saturday to voice their opposition to a potential strike, calling their picket line one that Congress shouldn’t cross as it prepares to vote on the issue.

At least 150 protesters picketed the sidewalk in front of the White House and marched to Capitol Hill, chanting slogans like “They say more war; we say no war” and carrying signs that said a war on Syria would be “Built on a Lie.” Pelley mentioned the lack of support from the American public during the interview.

“[They are] not [with me] yet, and … I understand that,” he said. So I’ll have a chance to talk to the American people directly tomorrow. I don’t expect that it’s gonna suddenly swing the polls wildly in the direction of another military engagement.”

He continued, “But what I’m gonna try to propose is, is that we have a very specific objective, a very narrow military option, and one that will not lead into some large-scale invasion of Syria or involvement or boots on the ground, nothing like that. This isn’t like Iraq, it’s not like Afghanistan, it’s not even like Libya. Then hopefully people will recognize why I think this is so important.”

Earlier Monday, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton endorsed Obama’s attempt to win congressional approval of a military strike in Syria, saying Monday that any move by the Assad regime to surrender its weapons to international control would be an “important step.”

Clinton met with Obama at the White House as the administration sought to sway skeptical lawmakers in Congress to approve the plan. The former first lady offered her first public statements on the Syrian crisis, adding her voice to a series of Obama allies who have supported the military action.

“I will continue to support his efforts and I hope the Congress will as well,” Clinton said at forum on wildlife trafficking, an issue that was one of her priorities at the State Department.

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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