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Rediff News  All News  » News » Syria puts international community's credibility on line: Obama

Syria puts international community's credibility on line: Obama

September 04, 2013 21:02 IST

United States President Barack Obama on Wednesday defended his decision to go for a limited military strike against the Assad regime of Syria arguing that it is the question of credibility of international community.

"My credibility is not on the line. The international community's credibility is on the line, and America and the Congress' credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important," Obama said at a joint news conference in Stockholm along with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Responding to a question, Obama said the red line against the use of chemical weapons was not set by him. "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line. The world set a red line when governments representing 98 per cent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use even when countries are engaged in war," he said.

"As such, the credibility of the international community is on line."

"The question is how credible is the international community when it says this is an international norm that has to be observed? The question is how credible is the Congress when it passes a treaty saying we have to forbid the use of chemical weapons," he asked.

"And I do think that we have to act because if we don't, we are effectively saying that even though we may condemn it and issue resolutions and so forth and so on, somebody who is not shamed by resolutions can continue to act with impunity," he said.

Obama warned that if the international community does not act now, the international norms would begin to erode and other despots and authoritarian regimes can start looking and saying that's something they can get away with.

"And then calls into question other international norms and laws of war and whether those are going to be enforced," he said.

The US has alleged that the nerve agent sarin was used by the Assad regime on August 21 and that at least 1,429 people were killed, including over 400 children.

"I'm very respectful of the UN investigators who went in at great danger to try to gather evidence about what happened. We want more information, not less," Obama said.

"But when I said that I have high confidence that chemical weapons were used and that the Assad government, through their chain of command, ordered their use, that was based on both public sourcing, intercepts, evidence that we feel very confident about, including samples that have been tested showing sarin from individuals who were there," he said.

Mindful of the memories of Iraq and weapons of mass destruction accusations and people being concerned about how accurate this information is, Obama said for somebody who had opposed the Iraq war, he has done a thoroughgoing evaluation of the information that is currently available.

"I can say with high confidence: chemical weapons were used," he said, adding that no one is disputing that chemical weapons were used. It is only the Assad regime, which has in possession the chemical weapons and the capabilities to launch an attack with chemical weapons.

"We can show that the rockets that delivered these chemical weapons went from areas controlled by Assad into these areas where the opposition was lodged and that accumulation of evidence gives us high confidence that Assad carried this out," he said.

"So the question is: After we've gone through all this, are we going to try to find a reason not to act? And if that's the case, then I think the world community should admit it because you can always find a reason not to act," he said.

Obama exuded confidence that the Congress would authorize his request for a military strike against the Assad regime. "What happens if the Congress doesn't approve it? I believe that the Congress will approve it," Obama said.

"I believe the Congress will approve it because I think America recognises that, as difficult as it is to take any military action -- even one as limited as we're talking about -- even one without boots on the ground -- that's a sober decision," he said.

"I think America also recognises that if the international community fails to maintain certain norms, standards and laws governing how countries interact and how people are treated, that over time, this world becomes less safe," Obama said.

The Congress is expected to take a vote on it early next week, with key Congressional committees having holding hearings on Syria and discussing the military attack resolution. The Obama administration's top leadership has been briefing the lawmakers on a daily basis.

Obama said he would not have taken this before the Congress just as a symbolic gesture. "I think it's very important that the Congress say that we mean what we say. I think we will be stronger as a country in our response if the President and Congress does it together," he said.

"As commander in chief, I always preserve the right and the responsibility to act on behalf of America's national security. I do not believe that I was required to take this to the Congress, but I did not take this to the Congress just because it's an empty exercise. I think it's important to have Congress' support on it," Obama said.

Lalit K Jha