U.S. President Barack Obama has made his case for military action in Syria, saying that a targeted strike is "in the national security interests of the United States."
In a televised speech to the nation Tuesday night, President Obama said he resisted military action during the first two years of the conflict because "we cannot solve someone else's civil war through force." But he said the situation "profoundly changed" on August 21 when Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government gassed to death more than 1,000 people outside Damascus, including hundreds of children.
Mr. Obama said if the U.S. and the international community fail to act, Mr. Assad and other tyrants would see no reason not to use chemical weapons again. He said that over time, U.S. troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield, and it could be easier for terrorists to obtain them and attack civilians. The president said a failure to act could open up Turkey, Jordan, Israel and other U.S. allies in the region to the threat of chemical weapons, and could embolden Mr. Assad's ally Iran.
He said the purpose of a U.S. strike on Syria would be to deter Mr. Assad from using chemical weapons, degrade his regime's ability to use them, and make clear to the world that the United States will not tolerate their use.
But the president added that he has asked Congress to postpone votes on a military strike in light of Tuesday's news that Syria has agreed to a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control and to have them destroyed.
Mr. Obama said it is too early to tell whether the offer will succeed, but he said it has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force.
He said no one disputes that chemical weapons were used in Syria, and he said U.S. officials know President Assad's government was responsible.
Mr. Obama said the U.S. is not the "world's policeman," but that when "with modest effort and risk" it can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make American children safer in the long run, he believes it should act.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the Obama administration will take a hard look at the Russian plan. Kerry intends to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday in Geneva to discuss Syria.
At the United Nations, U.S., British and French diplomats worked on a draft resolution Tuesday calling for strong action if Syria fails to keep its word.
President Obama said the U.S. is still prepared to go ahead with military strikes against Syria if diplomacy fails. But Russian President Vladimir Putin said the plan for Syria can only work if the United States drops its threat of force.
Syria's main opposition bloc, the Syrian National Coalition, dismissed the Russian proposal as meaningless. It said the plan still would give the Syrian army free rein to fight on with conventional weapons.
And while this diplomatic activity focused on the response to the chemical weapons attack, the civil war in Syria continued. On Tuesday, Syrian military jets again bombed rebel positions in the capital, Damascus.