President Barack Obama said the U.S. has concluded that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its citizens, calling it a grave breach of international norms that demands a strong response.
The president said the conclusion was reached after reviewing “all the evidence.” Obama said that while he’s been given options by the Defense Department he hasn’t made a decision to use U.S. military forces against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
In an interview with PBS’s “NewsHour” program, Obama said the U.S. and its allies need to send “a pretty strong signal” that will deter further use of chemical arms. Any move by the U.S. would be a limited “shot across the bow,” he said.
“We want the Assad regime to understand that by using chemical weapons on a large scale against your own people -- against women, against infants, against children, that you are not only breaking international norms and standards of decency, but you’re also creating a situation where U.S. national interests are affected, and that needs to stop,” Obama said.
The U.S. and its NATO allies began yesterday presenting their justification for military action against Syria as they advanced plans for conducting a strike. The Obama administration is preparing a declassified intelligence analysis to provide evidence that the Syrian government was behind the Aug. 21 attack in a town outside Damascus.
“We have looked at all the evidence” and concluded the Syrian opposition doesn’t have chemical weapons or the means to deliver them, Obama said on PBS. “We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences.”
The U.S. and the U.K. today said they are prepared to take military action against Syria without United Nations backing after Russia objected to a British draft of a resolution authorizing a strike.
“By far the best thing would be if the United Nations could be united, unlikely as that seems in the face of the vetoes from Russia and China that we’ve had in the past,” U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters in London. “If there isn’t agreement at the United Nations, then we and other nations still have a responsibility on chemical weapons.”
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said Syria “cannot hide behind Russian intransigence at the Security Council.”
The U.S. is concerned that letting the Syrian government go unpunished would send a signal to other countries, including North Korea, that have large inventories of chemical weapons, as well as making it likely that the Assad government will attack civilians with such weapons again, according to a U.S. official who asked not to be identified discussing war-planning.
While the U.S. has warships and submarines carrying Tomahawk cruise missiles ready for action in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, any military move may still be days away, in part because a team of UN weapons inspectors needs at least two more days to complete its report. Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron also have yet to rally support from lawmakers and voters at home.
Cameron today backed down from asking lawmakers for immediate support for military strikes on Syria after the Labour opposition demanded a delay until the report from the UN team is finished.
If Labour opposes military action, Cameron may struggle to win approval from the House of Commons, as some of his own Conservative lawmakers have publicly expressed reluctance to back such a move. Parliament debate is scheduled to begin today and Cameron pledged to hold a further vote before any action is taken.
Members of the U.S. Congress, who don’t return from a recess until Sept. 9, have been pressing Obama to seek their approval for any action by U.S. forces.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, released a statement last night saying Obama has a duty to provide “a clear, unambiguous explanation” of how any military action would advance U.S. objectives, as well as how it fits with congressional authority to make declarations of war.
In the U.S. and Britain, polls have shown a majority of the public opposes further involvement in the Syrian conflict. The prospect of a military confrontation in the Middle East, a region that produces 35 percent of the world’s oil, has rumbled through markets. Stock markets in the region slumped for a second day yesterday as oil prices reached a two-year high.
West Texas Intermediate oil climbed 1 percent to $110.10 a barrel after climbing as much as 3 percent to $112.24. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gained 0.3 percent to 1,634.96 as Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. rose more than 2 percent.
Allied leaders are working to define the goals of a military strike on Syria, according to the U.S. official. Any use of force won’t be limited to a one-day operation, the official said.
Among the options being explored are how to deter and degrade Syria’s chemical-weapons capability and defeat the Assad government’s defense capabilities, another U.S. official said, also speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal policy deliberations.
Separate discussions are being held on whether, when and how to accelerate and expand military and intelligence assistance to mainstream Syrian rebels groups in an effort to prevent extremist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda from reaping the benefits of Western attacks on the Assad regime, said a third U.S. official who requested anonymity to discuss possible covert action programs.
Amid the diplomatic dueling at the UN, the Obama administration is consulting with NATO allies, including Turkey, as well as Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, to determine which countries would participate in a military operation.