U.S. President Barack Obama pledged on Tuesday to explore a diplomatic plan from Russia to take away Syria\’s chemical weapons, but voiced skepticism about it and urged Americans to support his threat to use military force if needed.
In a speech to the American people
on Wednesday, Obama said a Russian offer to persuade Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to give up his stockpile of chemical weapons offered the possibility of heading off the need to take military action.
Speaking from the White House, President Obama said his administration had long resisted calls for military action in Syria because he did not believe that force could solve the civil war.
But he said he changed his mind after the chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on 21 August.
"The images from this massacre are sickening," he said.
Obama said the US "knew" the Assad regime was to blame.
"We know that Assad\’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas," he said.
"They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighbourhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces."
Obama said that such an attack was not only a violation of international law it was also a danger to US national security.
"As the ban against these weapons erodes, other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them," he said.
He said that "after careful deliberation" he had decided to respond to the use of chemical weapons through "a targeted military strike".
In his speech, Obama stated that he still retained to right to order military strikes, adding: "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.
"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."
But he acknowledged the limitations of military action.
"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."
"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."
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Syria accepted a Russian proposal on Tuesday to give up chemical weapons and win a reprieve from U.S. military strikes but serious differences emerged between Russia and the United States that could obstruct a U.N. resolution to seal a deal.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said in a statement shown on Russian state television that Damascus was committed to the Russian initiative.
"We want to join the convention on the prohibition of chemical weapons. We are ready to observe our obligations in accordance with that convention, including providing all information about these weapons," Moualem said.
"We are ready to declare the location of the chemical weapons, stop production of the chemical weapons, and show these (production) facilities to representatives of Russia and other United Nations member states," he said.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the Obama administration will take a hard look at the Russian plan. Kerry plans to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday in Geneva to discuss the latest developments.
The United Nations Security Council was planning to hold an emergency meeting on Syria Tuesday afternoon, but that was abruptly canceled.
Syria\’s main opposition bloc, the Syrian National Coalition, dismissed the proposal as meaningless. It said the plan still would give the Syrian army free rein to fight on with conventional weapons.
But while diplomatic activity focuses on the response to the chemical weapons attack on a Damascus neighborhood Aug. 21, the civil war in Syria continues. On Tuesday, Syrian military jets again bombed rebel positions in the capital.