WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Addressing the nation Tuesday night, President Obama signaled support for exploring a Russian proposal that would put Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime’s chemical stockpile under international control before its eventual dismantling.
“Over the last few days, we’ve seen some encouraging signs, in part because of the credible threat of U.S. military action, as well as constructive talks that I had with President Putin,” Obama said.
“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.”
Obama originally called on Congress to authorize the use of a military strike in Syria following the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that he said left more than 1,400 people dead, including hundreds of children. The president announced Tuesday night he has asked Congress to postpone the vote in hopes to reach a diplomatic resolution.
“I have therefore asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path,” Obama stated. “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.”
Obama said Tuesday night that recent diplomatic steps offer “the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons” inside Syria without the use of force, but he also insisted the U.S. military will keep the pressure on Assad “and be ready to respond” if other measures fail.
“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,” Obama said.
Obama sympathized with a war-weary public, saying the United States “is not the world’s policemen,” but reiterated that if a military strike is launched, no American boots will be put on the ground.
“I will not pursue an open-ended action like Iraq or Afghanistan. I will not pursue a prolonged air campaign like Libya or Kosovo,” Obama said. “This would be a targeted strike to achieve a clear objective, deterring the use of chemical weapons and degrading Assad’s capabilities.”
Obama responded to critics that a targeted military strike won’t send a message to Assad.
“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,” Obama said.
Obama said that a message needs to be sent to Assad — and other dictators — that the U.S. and the international community won’t stand idly by when chemical weapons are used.
“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,” Obama stated. “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.”
Many lawmakers have expressed skepticism over launching a military strike against Syria. Earlier Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell became the first congressional leader to publicly oppose Obama’s Syria plan of a military strike.
Secretary of State John Kerry said at an Armed House Services Committee hearing Tuesday that the U.S. “will not wait for long” for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons.
Obama said that the U.S. will continue to work with Russia and China to reach a diplomatic resolution with Assad’s regime.
“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 U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control,” Obama said.
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