News / Middle East

Obama: Syria's Use of Chemical Weapons Is Threat to US Interests

President Barack Obama speaks to members of the media during his meeting with Baltic leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Aug. 30, 2013.
President Barack Obama speaks to members of the media during his meeting with Baltic leaders in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Aug. 30, 2013.
U.S. President Barack Obama said Friday he has not made a final decision on attacking Syria, but made clear he thinks doing so would be in the interest of national security.

Syria has become a threat to the United States, he said, "by violating well established international norms against the use of chemical weapons, by further threatening friends and allies of ours in the region, like Israel, and Turkey and Jordan, and it increases the risk that chemical weapons will be used in the future, and fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us."

Speaking briefly at the White House, Obama said he has consulted with the U.S. military, members of Congress and U.S. allies, as well as the wider international community.

He also made clear his frustration with the United Nations' inability to agree on a course of action against Damascus.

"What we have seen so far at least is an incapacity at this point for the Security Council to move forward in the face of a clear violation of international norms," Obama said.

It was a point that Secretary of State John Kerry made earlier in the afternoon, and he blamed Russia, an ally of the Syrian government.

"And because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the U.N. Security Council, the U.N. cannot galvanize the world to act, as it should," Kerry said.



Russia has blocked previous attempts at the U.N. to impose sanctions on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.  Russia, however, warns that Western intervention could be destablizing to the Middle East.

In a possible sign Washington may be preparing to act, a State Department official said Kerry called the foreign ministers of several countries Friday, including those in Britain, Egypt, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the secretary-general of the Arab League.

Legacy of Iraq, Afghanistan

The administration spent Friday laying out its arguments for a response to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, as it tries to build support at home and abroad for a strike on Syria.

International military deployments directed toward SyriaInternational military deployments directed toward Syria
x
International military deployments directed toward Syria
International military deployments directed toward Syria
It was clear, however, that the legacy of more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq weighs on Obama and his advisers.  The president said he is considering a "narrow, limited" strike.

He also said he is "not considering any open-ended commitment" in Syria.

And Secretary Kerry said any action "will bear no resemblance to Afghanistan, Iraq or even Libya.  It will not involve any boots on the ground.  It will not be open-ended."

Kerry acknowledged there are risks to acting against the government of President Assad, but said the risks of not acting are greater.  Not acting, he said, could embolden other countries to build and use chemical and nuclear weapons, such as Iran and North Korea.

Children killed

As Kerry spoke Friday afternoon, the White House released an unclassified report, saying the U.S. intelligence community has "high confidence" that Assad's government used chemical weapons on August 21 against civilians in several Damascus suburbs.

The report says 1,429 people died in the attack, at least 426 of them children.  It based the numbers on numerous sources, including witnesses, social media reports and Syrian and international medical personnel.

The report rejects the Syrian government's allegations that the attacks were the work of rebels.  It says rockets and artillery shells fired from government-held areas carried the toxic gases to neighborhoods held by rebel forces, and says the rebels do not have those types of heavy arms.

The U.S. also says its intelligence indicates that Syrian chemical weapons forces prepared the weapons before the attack.  In the days beforehand, the U.S. "collected streams of intelligence" linked to preparations for an attack.

Seeking support

With Obama's comments and Kerry's speech, along with the release of the intelligence summary on the chemical weapons attack, the administration pushed forward its effort to build support at home and abroad for a strike on the Damascus government.

Related video report by Zlatica Hoke

US Unveils Intelligence on Syrian Chemical Attacksi
X
August 31, 2013 4:16 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the world cannot stand by in the face of Syria's use of chemical weapons. The president spoke Friday after the U.S. government released an intelligence assessment which says Syrian government forces used a nerve agent in a recent attack on a Damascus suburb. Zlatica Hoke reports.

A spokesman for U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said the White House will brief Republican senators on the Syrian situation in a conference call Saturday, at the request of McConnell.

U.S. Government's Assessment

  • High confidence the Syrian government used a nerve agent in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21, 2013
  • 1,429 people were killed, including 426 children
  • Highly unlikely that the Syrian opposition carried out the chemical attack

U.S. Report on the Attack

  • Assad regime carried out a rocket and artillery attack on the Damascus suburbs early on Aug. 21
  • Thousands of reports on the attack appeared in social media
  • Nearby hospitals received 3,600 patients displaying symptoms consistent with nerve agent exposure
  • Hundreds of videos attributed to the attack show bodies with signs consistent with nerve agent exposure
  • Syrian opposition does not have the means to fabricate the videos and other information related to the attack
  • Intercepted communications involving senior Assad official who confirmed chemical weapons were used in the attack
Source: U.S. Government
Many U.S. voters and several members of Congress remain skeptical about the need for any U.S. involvement in Syria.  That sentiment is shared in other parts of the world.

Britain's lower house of parliament has rejected a motion for British participation in a military strike.

U.S. ally France, however, remains committed to a "firm and proportionate action" in response to that attack.  Kerry noted that others, such as members of the Arab League, Turkey and Australia, have called for a strong response.

Kerry acknowledged that after more than a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, Americans are tired of conflict.

"But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility.  Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about.  And history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator's wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency.  These things, we do know," he said.

Two former U.S. presidents have weighed in.  Former Republican president George W. Bush said Obama has a "tough choice to make".  

Former Democratic president Jimmy Carter said a punitive military response would be illegal under international law and "only harden existing positions and postpone a sorely needed political process" in Syria.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has urged world powers to hold off on possible military action until a U.N. chemical weapons inspection team completes its work in the country.

The inspectors left early Saturday and some are expected to meet with Ban in the next few days.  But, it could be weeks before their final report is issued.  Kerry noted that the U.N. inspectors' mission was to establish whether chemical weapons were used, but not to determine who used them.

  • In this citizen journalism image provided by Edlib News Network, ENN, Syrians search under rubble to rescue people from houses that were destroyed by a Syrian government warplane in Idlib province, August 30, 2013.
  • In this citizen journalism image provided by Edlib News Network, ENN, smoke rises after explosives were dropped by a Syrian government warplane in Idlib province, August 30, 2013.
  • In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, U.N. investigators gather potential evidence in a Damascus suburb, August 28, 2013.
  • This citizen journalism image provided by the United media office of Arbeen shows Syrians moving a man who was allegedly exposed to chemical weapons to show him to U.N. investigators in a Damascus suburb, August 28, 2013.
  • This citizen journalism image provided by the United media office of Arbeen shows U.N. investigators in a suburb of Damascus, August 28, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters carry their weapons as they escort U.N. vehicles carrying chemical weapons experts at the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb, August 28, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters deploy in Aleppo's town of Khanasir after seizing it, August 26, 2013.
  • Free Syrian Army fighters inspect munitions and a tank that belonged to forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad after they seized Khanasir, August 26, 2013.
  • A U.N. chemical weapons expert gathers evidence at site of an alleged poison gas attack in a southwestern Damascus suburb, August 26, 2013.
  • An image grab taken from a video posted by Syrian activists purportedly shows a U.N. inspector speaking to a man in a Damascus suburb, August 26, 2013.
  • U.N. chemical weapons experts visit a hospital where wounded people affected by a suspected gas attack are being treated, in a southwestern Damascus suburb, August 26, 2013.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

Alaskans experiencing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more frequent and extensive wildfires, deteriorating glaciers, and swift shoreline erosion More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
    Next 
by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
September 01, 2013 10:03 PM
I do not think this usage of chemical weapon harms US intersts. Obama seems caught by paranoia to be attacked for American people with gas terrorism. Military forces do not work to stop conflicts as you learned from many many wars you have been engaged in since long before.

Why do not you think about other measures besides military forces to send your message to others? You should be more mature. Justice for someone is sometimes a signature of their immatuarity, self-satisfication and harm to others. I hope American people and congress would make thoughtful decision.Thank you.

by: TBellchambers from: London UK
September 01, 2013 7:33 AM
The burning question is why would the international community give any credence to so- called 'intelligence' supplied by one of the only states in the world that has refused to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) of the OPCW, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons?

When 98% of the global population and of all major chemical manufacturers subscribe to the banning of these WMD, what does it say about the seven maverick states who refuse to condemn the illegal use of these weapons?
In Response

by: Dennis from: Singapore
September 04, 2013 1:02 PM
Sorry by "one of the only states in the world " do you mean Israel?

The US did sign and ratify the CWC in Jan 13, 1993 and Apr 29, 1997 respectively.

by: Markt
August 31, 2013 3:57 PM
oh, hell...he said the magic words...."a threat to U.S national security"...always the first words spoken before declaring war. Vietnam, a threat to our national security; 5 years and 58,000+ American dead...Iraq and Afghanistan, a threat to our national security, 12 years (and counting) and 6700+ (and counting) American dead.
Okay, the region is very unstable and very violent. Sure, lets make it even more unstable and violent by adding U.S. military strikes...give those Middle Eastern people ANOTHER reason to hate us, as if they don't hate us enough already.
Every President wants to be remembered for something, and war is always a thing that is remembered. Another legacy born of bloodshed and destruction. When will this end....?

by: Fire from: U.S.A.
August 31, 2013 2:46 PM
Show me the purpose why America should intervene in another countries civil war. All this will cause America problems like other countries are telling America, so back off. Please don't blame the people it's this administration without the backing of it's citizen.

by: Kp from: TX
August 31, 2013 2:00 PM
Without more information from the Gov., how am I to make an informed decision as to whether Assad truly used these chem. weapons? To clarify: I do not question whether they were used, but WHO used them.

For example, the Muslim Brotherhood rioters in Egypt staging photos and videos of rioting like it's a scene in a play. These people are not dumb, they are very aware of their global image. I take these things into consideration, and more such as the US and other countries histories of staging events to sway public opinion into supporting military action -- I see these things and I think "I need a little more proof."

I truly hope that us citizens learn from past mistakes and stand strong with our request for being certain before we act on something so important. Don't be swayed by hollow words.

by: van from: vietnam
August 31, 2013 11:28 AM
finally , the US is doing the right thing that no country to dare. To stand up to fight against brutality and cruelty of Assad. Tks a lot to America.
In Response

by: kp from: tx
August 31, 2013 1:51 PM
Who is going to stand up against the brutality of the rebels?

by: Michael from: USA
August 31, 2013 9:19 AM
The U.S. President has the power to send out the military, which would place Syria, according to generic fitting attitude theory, in a more or less dangerous threat-value to the world. Whats wrong with that?

by: ali baba from: new york
August 31, 2013 5:50 AM
Syria is not a threat to Us. it is very small country and it has no resources to develop a sophisticate chemical weapons. Us should not do the same mistake of Iraq of weapons of mass destruction and it was wrong. the British say no to get involved in war. this involvement will serve radical Muslim which they are in war against Bashar El Assad.. this attack will help the radical Islam to convert Syria into middle east Afghanistan Muslim brotherhood agenda should not promoted .the president has to seek approval from congress before us attack syria

by: Dr. Malek Towghi from: Michigan, USA
August 31, 2013 2:08 AM
Mr. President, Please explain how Syria's use of chemical weapons against its own Sunni Arab citizens is a threat to US interests?

It would have been close to the truth had you said: "The US inaction concerning Syria is a threat to the Military Industrial Complex's interests."

Mr. President, Your advisers and consultants should have told you that what is going on in Syria is a typical Shiah-Sunni civil war that has been raging in the Muslim world since 656 CE when the Muslim rebels led by the son of the first caliph, Abu Bakr, hacked to death the third caliph, Uthman / Usman.

The US or rest of the civilized world should never be a party in this ... Shia-Sunni civil war. It is an Arab-Muslim problem and should be dealt with accordingly.

by: No Propaganda from: USA
August 30, 2013 11:02 PM
Secretary of State John Kerry opened his speech Friday by describing the horrors victims of the chemical weapon attack suffered, including twitching, spasms and difficulty breathing.
Attempting to drive the point home, Kerry referenced a photograph used by the BBC illustrating a child jumping over hundreds of dead bodies covered in white shrouds. The photo was meant to depict victims who allegedly succumbed to the effects of chemical weapons via Assad’s regime.
However, it was later exposed the photograph used had been taken in 2003 in Iraq!! It was not related to Syrian deaths whatsoever and was later retracted.
The Secretary of State announced the US will continue “negotiations” with Congress and the American people.
The decision came after UK Parliament voted no to military action against Syria Thursday evening, refusing to accompany the US in a missile strike against the Middle Eastern nation.
Germany also voiced their opposition to Syria military intervention saying they have “not considered it” and “will not be considering it.”
France, however, released statements saying they intend to act alongside the US in an attempt to “punish” Syria for the alleged chemical weapons attack.
Despite numerous allies’ refusal to get involved, Kerry argued “Many friends stand ready to respond.”
Kerry alleged that not just one, but several chemical weapon attacks have occurred. The attack last week in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta killed 1,429 Syrians, including 426 children. However, the “international aid group Doctors Without Borders reported 355 people were killed in the attack last week, not the wildly exaggerated figure cited by Kerry.”
Comments page of 2
    Next 

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs