Washington: President Obama on Wednesday told war-weary Americans that he wants to give diplomacy a chance to avoid military strikes on Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons, but asked his military to be ready to respond if negotiations fail.
In a televised address from the White House’s East Room, Obama termed the Russian proposal to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control as an “encouraging” sign and said US and Russian officials would discuss about the initiative. Obama, in his 16-minute somber address, said that he would also discuss it with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been opposing any military action against Syria without UN approval.
Obama also asked the Senate to put off a vote on his request for an authorisation of military force to let the diplomacy play out. He set no timetables for action, but said any deal with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would require verification that he keeps his word. His speech was planned as Obama’s final push to win support from a sceptical public and Congress for his planned attack on Syria for what his administration calls a major chemical weapons attack on August 21 that killed more than 1,400 people in suburban Damascus. Calling the US “the anchor of global security,” Obama offered moral, political and strategic arguments for being ready to launch limited military strikes while trying to negotiate a diplomatic solution.
However, he asserted that America is not the world’s policeman and asked Americans to support him as “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.”
Obama said that he has asked his military to continue maintaining its aggressive posture in the region pending a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis. “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,” he said.
Obama, however, said it is too early to tell if the Russian effort would succeed. “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,” he said. “I’ve spoken to the leaders of two of our closet 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,” he said.
Obama said he will also give UN inspectors the opportunity to report their findings about what happened on August 21 and will continue to rally support from allies, from Europe, Asia to the Middle East.
“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,” he said.
“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,” Obama said.
Obama cautioned against giving the impression that the US military strike would be just a pinprick. “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,” he said.
“Others have asked whether it’s worth acting if we don’t take out Assad. As 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,” he said.
Hours ahead of his address to the nation, Obama drove down to the Capitol Hill to brief lawmakers on his assessment of the Syrian situation, and received inputs on his decision to go for a limited military strike.
As part of efforts to find diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis, US Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Geneva tomorrow to meet his Russian counterpart.
Meanwhile, Obama’s approval rating plummeted to its lowest over his move to launch a limited military strike against Syria. (PTI)