Obama Admits Public Opposition To Syria Strike (Transcript)

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Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the media during a news conference at the G20 summit in St.Petersburg, Russia, Sep. 6, 2013.

With public opinion and Congressional momentum against him, President Obama attempted to recalibrate expectations and redouble his sales effort for targeted military strikes, during a press conference Friday in Russia after a meeting of the G-20.

He made clear that his priority was winning support for strikes from a majority in Congress, even if a majority of the American people do not back the effort. “It’s conceivable that at the end of the day, I don’t persuade a majority of the American people that it’s the right thing to do. And then each member of Congress is gonna have to decide,” Obama said, noting that he was aware of recent polls showing broad opposition to strikes. “Ultimately, you listen to your constituents, but you’ve also got to make some decisions about what you believe is right for America.”

On Tuesday, Obama plans to take his case directly to the American people, with an address from the White House. “Our polling operations are pretty good, you know, I tend to have a pretty good sense of what current popular opinion is,” he said. ” For the American people who have been through over a decade of war now with enormous sacrifice—and blood and treasure—any hint of further military entanglements in the Middle East are going to be viewed with suspicion.”

The last week has not been a good one for Obama in Congress, where members have made increasingly public pronouncements about their concerns with the national support for the strikes. Several news organization counts of the votes in the House show that a majority of members are either against the strikes, or leaning against the strikes. Obama said he would make his case publicly but made clear that his focus was on winning majority support in Congress. “I understand the skepticism. I think it is very important, therefore, for us to work through, systematically, making the case to every senator and every member of Congress,” he said.

He compared the current debate in the U.S. to the debate during World War II over whether to support Britain during the bombing of London, the debate over whether to intervene in Kosovo in 1999 and the debate over whether to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. “Imagine if Rwanda was going on right now. And we asked: Should we intervene in Rwanda? I think it’s fair to say that it probably wouldn’t poll real well,” the President said.

Obama has made the case for bombing Syria on humanitarian grounds, noting repeatedly that hundreds of children were killed by chemical weapons attacks. But White House officials have also made clear that Obama does not embrace a humanitarian mission in Syria with the goal of saving lives. The goal is more narrow: To prevent the loss of life by chemical attack. Already more than 110,000 people, many of them civilians, have been killed in the Syrian civil war, international observers say. Only a small fraction have died from chemical attacks.

A full transcript of the Obama remarks follows below.

OBAMA: (OFF-MIKE) thank President Putin and the people of St. Petersburg, and the people of Russia, for holding this G-20.

This city has a long and storied history, including its historic resistance and extraordinary sacrifices during the Second World War. So I want to take this opportunity to salute the people of St. Petersburg and express our gratitude for their outstanding hospitality.

This summit marks another milestone in the world’s recovery from the financial crisis that erupted five years ago this month. Instead of the looming threat of another financial meltdown, we’re focused for the first time in many years on building upon the gains that we’ve made. For the first time in three years, instead of an urgent discussion to address the European financial crisis, we see a Europe that has emerged from recession.

Moreover, the United States is a source of strength in the global economy. Our manufacturing sector is rebounding, new rules have strengthened our banks and reduced the chance of another crisis. We’re reducing our addiction to foreign oil and producing more clean energy. And as we learned today, over the past three-and-a-half years, our businesses have created 7.5 million new jobs, a pace of more than 2 million jobs each year. We’ve put more people back to work, but we’ve also cleared away the rubble of crisis and laid the foundation for stronger and more durable economic growth.

We’re also making progress in putting our fiscal house in order. Our deficits are falling at the fastest rate in 60 years. And as Congress takes up important decisions in the coming month, I’m going to keep making the case for the smart investments and fiscal responsibility that keeps our economy growing, creates jobs, and keeps the U.S. competitive.

OBAMA: That includes making sure we don’t risk a U.S. default over paying bills we’ve already racked up. I’m determined that the world has confidence in the full faith and credit of the United States.

As the world’s largest economy, our recovery is helping to drive global growth, and in the emerging markets in particular there’s a recognition that a strong U.S. economy is good for their economies, too. Yet we came to St. Petersburg mindful of the challenges that remain.

As it emerges from recession, Europe has an opportunity to focus on boosting demand and reducing unemployment; as well as making some of the structural changes that can increase long-term growth. Growth in emerging economies has slowed. So, we need to make sure that we are working with them in managing this process. And I’m pleased that over the past two days we reached a consensus on how to proceed.

We agreed that our focus needs to be on creating jobs and growth that put people back to work. We agreed on ways to encourage the investments in infrastructure that keep economies competitive. Nations agreed to continue to pursue financial reforms and to address tax evasion and tax avoidance which undermines budgets and unfairly shifts the tax burden to other taxpayers.

We’re moving ahead with our development agenda with a focus on issues like food security and combating corruption, and I’m very pleased that the G-20 nations agreed to make faster progress on phasing down certain greenhouse gases a priority. That’s an important step in our fight against climate change.

During my trip, we also continued our efforts to advance two key trade initiatives: The transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And I believe that if we continue to move forward on all the fronts that I’ve described, we can keep the global economy growing and keep creating jobs for our people.

Of course, even as we focused on our shared prosperity — and although the primary task of the G-20 is to focus on our joint efforts to boost the global economy — we did also discuss a grave threat to our shared security: And that’s the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. And what I’ve been emphasizing and will continue to stress is that the Assad regime’s brazen use of chemical weapons isn’t just a Syrian tragedy, it’s a threat to global peace and security.

Syria’s escalating use of chemical weapons threatens its neighbors, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel. It threatens to further destabilize the Middle East. It increases the risk that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorist groups. But more broadly, it threatens to unravel the international norm against chemical weapons embraced by 189 nations,, and those nations represent 98 percent of the world’s people.

Failing to respond to this breach of this international norm would send a signal to rogue nations, authoritarian regimes and terrorist organizations, that they can develop and use weapons of mass destruction and not pay a consequence. And that’s not the world that we want to live in. This is why nations around the world have condemned Syria for this attack, and called for action. I’ve been encouraged by discussions with my fellow leaders this week. There is a growing recognition that the world cannot stand idly by. Here in St. Petersburg leaders from Europe, Asia and the Middle East have come together to say that the international norm of the use against chemical weapons must be upheld, and that the Assad regime used these weapons on its own people, and that, as a consequence, there needs to be a strong response.

The Arab League foreign ministers have said the Assad regime’s responsible and called for deterrent and necessary measures against the culprits of this crime. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation — its general secretariat has called the attack a blatant affront to all religious and moral values and a deliberate disregard of international laws and norms, which requires a decisive action.

So, in the coming days I’ll continue to consult with my fellow leaders around the world, and I will continue to consult with Congress. And I will make the best case that I can to the American people, as well as to the international community, for taking necessary and appropriate action. And I intend to address the American people from the White House on Tuesday.

OBAMA: The kind of world we live in, and our ability to deter this kind of outrageous behavior, is going to depend on the decisions that we make in the days ahead.

And I’m confident that if we deliberate carefully and we choose wisely and embrace our responsibilities, we can meet the challenges of this moment as well as those in the days ahead.

So, with that, let me take some questions. I’ve got my handy list, and I will start with Julie Pace (ph) from AP.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

You mentioned the number of countries that have condemned the use of chemical weapons, but your advisers also say you’re leaving this summit with a strong number of countries backing your call for military action.

President Putin just a short time ago indicated it may only be a handful of countries, including France, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Can you tell us publicly what countries are backing your call for military action? And did you change any minds here? President Putin also mentioned your meeting with him earlier today. Can you tell us how that came about? And did you discuss both Syria and Edward Snowden? thank you.

OBAMA: The — I believe that there will be a statement issued later this evening, although hopefully in time for you guys to file back home, that indicates some of the additional countries that are making public statements.

Last night we had a good discussion. And I want to give President Putin credit that he facilitated I think a full airing of views on the issue.

And here’s how I would describe it, without giving the details or betraying the confidence of those who were speaking within the confines of the dinner.

It was unanimous that chemical weapons were used, a unanimous conclusion that chemical weapons were used in Syria. There was a unanimous view that the norm against using chemical weapons has to be maintained. That these weapons were banned for a reason and that the international community has to take those norms seriously. I would say that the majority of the room is comfortable with our conclusion that Assad, the Assad government, was responsible for their use. Obviously, this is disputed by President Putin, but if you polled the leaders last night, I’m confident that you’d get a majority who said it is most likely, we are pretty confident, that the Assad regime used it.

Where there is a division has to do with the United Nations. You know, there are number a of countries that just as a matter of principle believe that if military action is to be taken, it needs to go through the U.N. Security Council.

There are others, and I put myself in this camp, as somebody who is a strong supporter of the United Nations, who very much appreciates the courage of the investigators who have gone in and looks forward to seeing the U.N. report because I think we should try to get more information, not less, in this situation.

It is my view, and a view that was shared by a number of people in the room, that given Security Council paralysis on this issue, if we are serious about upholding a ban on chemical weapons use, then an international response is required and that will not come through Security Council action.

And that’s where I think the division comes from. And I respect those who are concerned about setting precedents of action outside of a U.N. Security Council resolution. I would greatly prefer working through multilateral channels and through the United Nations to get this done.

But ultimately what I believe in even more deeply, because I think that the security of the world and my particular task looking out for the national security of the United States requires that when there’s a breach this brazen of a norm this important and the international community is paralyzed and frozen and doesn’t act, then that norm begins to unravel.

And if that norm unravels, then other norms and prohibitions start unraveling. And that makes for a more dangerous world. And that, then, requires even more difficult choices and more difficult responses in the future.

You know, over 1,400 people were gassed. Over 400 of them were children. This is not something we’ve fabricated. This is not something that we are looking — are using as an excuse for military action.

As I said last night, I was elected to end wars, not start them. I’ve spent the last four and a half years doing everything I can to reduce our reliance on military power as a means of meeting our international obligations and protecting the American people.

But what I also know is, is that there are times where we have to make hard choices if we’re gonna stand up for the things that we care about. And I believe that this is one of those times. And if we end up using the U.N. Security Council not as a means of enforcing international norms and international law but, rather, as a barrier to acting on behalf of international norms and international law, then I think people rightly are going to be pretty skeptical about the system and whether it can work to protect those children that we saw on those videos.

And sometimes the further we get from the horrors of that, the easier it is to rationalize not making tough choices. And I understand that.

This is not convenient. This is not something that I think a lot of folks around the world, you know, find an appetizing set of choices.

But the question is, do these norms mean something? And if we’re not acting, what does that say? You know, if we’re just issuing another statement of condemnation or passing resolutions saying “wasn’t that terrible?”

You know, if people who, you know, decry international inaction in Rwanda and, you know, say how terrible it is that there are these human rights violations that take place around the world, then why aren’t we doing something about it?

And they always look to the United States. Why isn’t the United States doing something about this? The most powerful nation on Earth. Why are you allowing these terrible things to happen?

And then if the international community turns around when we’re saying it’s time to take some responsibility and says, “Well, hold on a second, we’re not sure.”

That erodes our ability to maintain the kind of norms that we’re looking at.

Now, I know that was a lengthy answer, and you had a second part of your question. The conversation I had with President Putin was on the margins of the — of the plenary session. And, you know, it was a candid and constructive conversation, which characterizes my relationship with him.

I know, as I’ve said before, everybody’s always trying to look for body language and all that, but the truth of the matter is, is that my interactions with him tend to be very straightforward.

We discussed Syria, and that was primarily the topic of conversation. Mr. Snowden did not come up beyond me saying that — re-emphasizing that where we have common interests, I think it’s important for the two of us to work together.

OBAMA: And on Syria, I said, listen, I don’t expect us to agree on this issue of chemical weapons use. Although it is possible that after the U.N. inspectors’ report, it may be more difficult for Mr. Putin to maintain his current position about the evidence.

But what I did say is that we both agree that the underlying conflict can only be resolved through a political transition as envisioned by the Geneva I and Geneva II process. And so, we need to move forward together, even if the U.S. and Russia and other countries disagree on this specific issue of how to respond to chemical weapons use, it remains important for us to work together to try to urge all parties in the conflict to try to resolve it.

Because we’ve got 4 million people internally displaced. We’ve got millions of people in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon who are desperate, and the situation’s only getting worse. And that’s not in anybody’s interests. It’s not in America’s interest. It’s not in Russia’s interest. It’s not in the interests of the people in the region, and obviously it’s not in the interest of Syrians who have seen their lives completely disrupted and their country shattered.

OBAMA: So, that is going to continue to be a project of ours. And that does speak to, you know, an issue that has been raised back home around this whole issue. You’ve heard some people say, well, you know, we think if you’re going to do something, you got to do something big, and maybe this isn’t big enough or maybe it’s too late or, you know, other responses like that.

You know, and what I’ve tried to explain is, look, we may not solve the whole problem, but this particular problem of using chemical weapons on children, this one we might have an impact on and that’s worth acting on. That’s important to us. And what I’ve also said is, is that as far as the underlying conflict’s concerned, unless the international community is willing to put massive numbers of troops on the ground — and I know nobody’s signing up for that — we’re not going to get a long-term military solution for the country.

And that is something that can only come about I think if, as different as our perspectives may be, myself, Mr. Putin, and others, are willing to set aside those differences and put some pressure on the parties on the ground.

OK? Brianna?

QUESTION: On the resolution to authorize the use of force, one of the big challenges right now isn’t just Republicans, but it’s from some of your loyal Democrats. It seems that the more they hear from classified briefings that the less likely they are to support you.

If the full Congress doesn’t pass this, will you go ahead with the strike?

And also, Senator Susan Collins, one of the few Republicans who breaks with her party to give you support at times, she says, “What if we execute this strike and then Assad decides to use chemical weapons again, do we strike again?”

And many Democrats are asking that as well. How do you answer her question?

OBAMA: Well, first of all, in terms of the votes and the process in Congress, I knew this was going to be a heavy lift. I said that on Saturday when I said we’re going to take it to Congress. You know, our polling operations are pretty good, you know, I tend to have a pretty good sense of what current popular opinion is. And for the American people who have been through over a decade of war now with enormous sacrifice — and blood and treasure — any hint of further military entanglements in the Middle East are going to be viewed with suspicion, and that suspicion will probably be even stronger in my party than in the Republican party. You know, since a lot of the people who supported me remember that I opposed the war in Iraq.

And what’s also true, is that experience with the war in Iraq colors how people view this situation, not just back home in America, but also here in Europe and around the world. You know, that’s the prism through which a lot of people are analyzing the situation.

OBAMA: So, I understand the skepticism. I think it is very important, therefore, for us to work through, systematically, making the case to every senator and every member of Congress. And that’s what we’re doing.

I dispute a little bit, Brianna (ph), the notion that people come out of classified briefings and they’re less in favor of it. I think that when they go through the classified briefings, they feel pretty confident that, in fact, chemical weapons were used and that the Assad regime used them.

Where you will see resistance is people being worried about a slippery slope and how effective a limited action might be. And our response, based on my discussions with our military, is that we can have a response that is limited, that is proportional, that when I say limited, it’s both in time and in scope, but that is meaningful and that degrades Assad’s capacity to deliver chemical weapons, not just this time, but also in the future, and serves as a strong deterrent.

Now, is it possible that Assad doubles down in the face of our action and uses chemical weapons more widely? I suppose anything’s possible, but it wouldn’t be wise. I think, at that point, mobilizing the international community would be easier, not harder. I think it would be pretty hard for the U.N. Security Council at that point to continue to resist the requirement for action, and we would gladly join with an international coalition to make sure that it stops.

So, you know, one of the biggest concerns of the American people, you know, certain members of Congress may have different concerns, there may be certain members of Congress who say we’ve got to do even more or claim to have previously criticized me for not hitting Assad and now are saying they’re going to vote no. And you’ll have to ask them exactly how they square that circle.

But for the American people at least, the concern really has to do with understanding that what we’re describing here would be limited and proportionate and designed to address this problem of chemical weapons use and upholding a norm that helps keep all of us safe. And — and that is going to be the case that I try to make, not just to Congress, but to the American people over the coming days. OK?

QUESTION: Just a follow-up (OFF-MIKE) full congressional approval (OFF-MIKE) Senate (OFF-MIKE) and the House does not (OFF- MIKE) would you go ahead with the strike?

OBAMA: You know, Brianna (ph), I think it would be a mistake for me to jump the gun and speculate, because right now I’m working to get as much support as possible out of Congress.

But I’ll repeat something that I said in Sweden when I was asked a similar question. I did not put this before Congress, you know, just as a political ploy or as symbolism. I put it before Congress because I could not honestly claim that the threat posed by Assad’s use of chemical weapons on innocent civilians and women and children posed an imminent, direct threat to the United States. In that situation, obviously, I don’t worry about Congress; we do what we have to do to keep the American people safe.

I could not say that it was immediately directly going to have an impact on our allies. Again, in those situations, I would act right away. This wasn’t even a situation like Libya, where, you know, you’ve got troops rolling towards Benghazi and you have a concern about time, in terms of saving somebody right away.

OBAMA: This was an event that happened. My military assured me that we could act today, tomorrow, a month from now, that we could do so proportionally, but meaningfully. And in that situation, I think it is important for us to have a serious debate in the United States about — about these issues, because these — these are going to be the kinds of national security threats that are most likely to recur over the next 5, 10 years.

There are very few countries who are going to go at us directly. I mean, we have to be vigilant, but our military is unmatched. Those countries that are large and powerful like Russia or China, you know, we have the kind of relationship with them where we’re not getting in conflicts of that sort. At least, you know, over the last several decades, there’s been a recognition that neither country benefits from that kind of great power conflict.

So the kinds of national security threats that we’re going to confront, they’re terrorist threats. They’re failed states. They are the proliferation of deadly weapons. And in those circumstances, you know, a president’s going to have to make a series of decisions about which one of these threats, over the long term, starts making us less and less safe. And where we can work internationally, we should.

There are going to be times, though, where, as is true here, the international community is stuck for a whole variety of political reasons. And if that’s the case, people are going to look to the United States and say, “What are you going to do about it?” And that’s not a responsibility that we always enjoy.

You know, there was a leader of a smaller country who I’ve spoken to over the last several days who said, you know, “I don’t envy you because I’m a small country and nobody expects me to do anything about chemical weapons around the world. They know I have no capacity to do something. And it’s tough because people do look to the United States.”

And the question for the American people is, is that responsibility that we’re willing to bear. And I believe that when you have a limited, proportional strike like this, not Iraq, not putting boots on the ground, not some long, drawn-out affair, not without any risks, but with manageable risks, that we should be willing to bear that responsibility.

Chuck Todd?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Good morning, or good evening. I think it’s still good morning for that call.

OBAMA: By — by tonight, it’ll be tonight.

(LAUGHTER)

When we get back home.

QUESTION: I think we’re all relieved.

OBAMA: Yeah.

QUESTION: I want to follow up on Brianna’s (ph) question because it seems these members of Congress are simply responding to their constituents.

OBAMA: Yeah.

QUESTION: And you’re seeing a lot of these town halls. And it seems as if the more you press your case, the more John Kerry presses the case on your behalf, the more the opposition grows. And maybe it’s — or more the opposition becomes vocal. Why do you think you’ve struggled with that?

And you keep talking about a limited mission. We have a report that indicates you’ve actually asked for an expanded lists of targets in Syria. And one military official told NBC News, it characterized it as “mission creep.” Can you respond to that report?

OBAMA: That report is inaccurate. I’m not going to comment on operational issues that, you know, are sourced by some military official. One thing I’ve got a pretty clear idea about is what I talk with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about. And what we have consistently talked about is something limited and proportional that would degrade Assad’s (ph) capabilities.

In terms of opposition, Chuck, I expected this. This is hard. And I was under no illusions when I — when I embarked on this path. But I think it’s the right thing to do. I think it’s good for our democracy. We will be more effective if we are unified going forward. And, you know, part of what we knew would be that there would be some politics interjecting…

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: No, I said some. But I — what I have also said, is that the American people have gone through a lot when it comes to the military over the last decade or so. And so, I understand that.

OBAMA: And — and when you start talking about chemical weapons and their proliferation, you know, those images of those bodies can sometimes be forgotten pretty quickly. I mean, the cycle moves — moves on.

Frankly, if we weren’t talking about the need for an international response right now, this wouldn’t be what everybody would be asking about. You know, there would be some resolutions that were being proffered in the United Nations and usual hocus-pocus, but the world and the country would have moved on.

So trying to impart a sense of urgency about this, why we can’t have an environment in which, over time, people start thinking we can get away with chemical weapons use, it’s — it’s a hard sell, but it’s something I believe in.

And — and — and as I explained to Brianna (ph), in this context, me making sure that the American people understand it, I think, is important before I take action.

John Karl (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

One of your closest allies in the House said yesterday, “When you’ve got 97 percent of your constituents saying no, it’s kind of hard to say yes.”

Why should members of Congress go against the will of their constituents and support your decision on this?

And I still haven’t heard a direct response to Brianna’s (ph) question. If Congress fails to authorize this, will you go forward with an attack on Syria?

OBAMA: Right. And you’re not getting a direct response.

(LAUGHTER)

Brianna (ph) asked the question very well, you know?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: It’s a pretty basic question.

OBAMA: You know, I was gonna give you a different answer? No. (LAUGHTER)

What I have said, and I will repeat, is that I put this before Congress for a reason. I think we will be more effective and stronger if, in fact, Congress authorizes this action. I’m not going to engage in parlor games now, Jonathan, about whether or not it’s going to pass, when I’m talking substantively to Congress about why this is important and talking to American people about why this is important.

Now, with respect to Congress and how they should respond to constituency concerns, you know, I do consider it part of my job to help make the case and to explain to the American people exactly why I think this is the right thing to do.

And it’s conceivable that at the end of the day, I don’t persuade a majority of the American people that it’s the right thing to do. And then each member of Congress is gonna have to decide, if I think it’s the right thing to do for America’s national security and the world’s national security, then how do I vote?

And you know what? That’s — that’s what you’re supposed to do as a member of Congress. Ultimately, you listen to your constituents, but you’ve also got to make some decisions about what you believe is right for America.

And that’s the same for me as president of the United States. There are a whole bunch of decisions that I make that are unpopular, as you well know.

But I do so because I think they’re the right thing to do, and I trust my constituents want me to offer my best judgment, that’s why they elected mean. that’s why they re-elected me, even after there were some decisions I made that they disagreed with. And I would hope that members of Congress would end up feeling the same way.

The last point I would make. Those kinds of interventions, these kinds of actions are always unpopular, because they seem distant and removed.

And I want to make sure I’m being clear. I’m not — I’m not drawing an analogy to World War II, other than to say when London was getting bombed, it was profoundly unpopular, both in Congress and around the country, to help the British.

It doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right thing to do. It just means people, you know, are struggling with jobs and bills to pay, and they don’t want their sons or daughters put in harm’s way. And these entanglements far away are dangerous and different.

OBAMA: I — you know, to bring the analogy closer to home, you know, the intervention in Kosovo, very unpopular. But ultimately I think it was the right thing to do, and the international community should be glad that it came together to do it.

When people say that it is — it is a terrible stain on all of us that hundreds of thousands of people were slaughtered in Rwanda, well imagine if Rwanda was going on right now. And we asked: Should we intervene in Rwanda? I think it’s fair to say that it probably wouldn’t poll real well.

So, you know, typically when any kind of military action is popular, it’s because either there’s been a very clear, direct threat to us — 9/11. Or an administration uses various hooks to suggest that American interests were directly threatened, like in Panama or Grenada. And sometimes those hooks are more persuasive than others, but typically they’re not put before Congress. And again, we just went through something pretty tough with respect to Iraq.

So, all that I guess provides some context for why you might expect people to be resistant here.

QUESTION: But your deputy national security adviser said that it is not your intention to attack if Congress doesn’t approve it. Is he right?

OBAMA: I don’t think that’s exactly what he said, but I think I’ve answered — I’ve answered the question.

Major Garrett?

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Those of us who remember covering your campaign remember you saying that militarily when the United States acts, it’s not just important what it does, but how it goes about doing it. And that even when America sets its course, it’s important to engage the international community and listen to different ideas even as it’s pursuing that action.

I wonder if you leave here and return to Washington, seeing the skepticism there, hearing it here, with any different ideas that might delay military action. For example, some in Congress have suggested giving the Syrian regime 45 days to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention, get rid of its chemical stockpiles, do something that would enhance the international sense of accountability for Syria, but delay military action.

Are you, Mr. President, looking at any of these ideas? Or are we on a fast track to military action as soon as Congress renders its judgment one way or the other?

OBAMA: I am listening to all these ideas. And some of them are constructive. And I’m listening to ideas in Congress and I’m listening to ideas here. Look, I want to repeat here. My goal is to maintain the international norm on banning chemical weapons. I want that enforcement to be real. I want it to be serious. I want people to understand that gassing innocent people, you know, delivering chemical weapons against children, is not something we do.

It’s prohibited in active wars between countries. We certainly don’t do it against kids. And we’ve got to stand up for that principle. If there are tools that we can use to ensure that, obviously my preference would be, again, to act internationally in a serious way and to make sure that Mr. Assad gets the message.

I’m not itching for military action. Recall, Major, that I have been criticized for the last couple of years by some of the folks who are now saying they would oppose these strikes, for not striking. And I think that I have a well-deserved reputation for taking very seriously and soberly the idea of military engagement.

So, we will look at these ideas. So far at least, I have not seen ideas presented that, as a practical matter, I think would do the job. But, you know, this is a situation where part of the reason I wanted to foster debate was to make sure that everybody thought about both the ramifications of action and…

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: So currently the — the only way to enforce this international norm is militarily and even giving the Assad regime extra time would not achieve your goals.

OBAMA: What I’m saying, Major, is that so far what we’ve seen is a escalation by the Assad regime of chemical weapons use. You’ll recall that several months ago I said — we now say with some confidence that at a small level Assad has used chemical weapons. We not only sent warnings to Assad, but we demarched, meaning, you know, we sent a strong message through countries that have relationships with Assad, that he should not be doing this. And rather than hold the line, we ended up with what we saw on August 21st.

So, this is not as if we haven’t tested the proposition that the guy — or at least generals under his charge — can show restraint when it comes to this stuff. And they’ve got one of the largest stockpiles in the world. But, I want to emphasize, that we continue to consult with our international partners. I’m listening to Congress. I’m not just doing the talking. And if there are good ideas that are worth pursuing, then I’m going to be open to them. I will take, last question, Tangy, AFP.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Yesterday night you had two unscheduled bilateral meetings with your Brazilian and Mexican counterparts after they voiced very strong concerns about being allegedly targeted by the NSA. What was your message to them? And do the relations — the constant stream of relations since (ph) this summer, make it harder for you to build confidence with your partners in international forums such as this one?

OBAMA: Good.

I did meet with President Rousseff as well as the President Pena Nieto, of Brazil and Mexico respectively, to discuss the allegations made in the press about the NSA.

I won’t share with you all the details of the conversation. But what I said to them is consistent with what I’ve said publicly — the United States has an intelligence agency. And our intelligence agency’s job is to gather information that’s not available through public sources. If they were available through public sources, then they wouldn’t be an intelligence agency.

In that sense, what we do is similar to what countries around the world do with their intelligence services. But what is true is that, you know, we are bigger, we have greater capabilities, you know, the difference between our capabilities and other countries probably tracks the differences in military capabilities between countries. And what I’ve said is that, because technology’s changing so rapidly, because these capabilities are growing, it is important for us to step back and review what it is that we’re doing. Because just because we can get information doesn’t necessarily always mean that we should. There may be costs and benefits to doing certain things, and we’ve got to weigh those. And I think that traditionally what’s happened, over decades, is the general assumption was, well, you know, whatever you can get, you just kind of pull in and then you kind of sift through later and try to figure out what’s useful.

The nature of technology and the legitimate concerns around privacy and civil liberties means that it’s important for us, on the front end, to say, all right, are we actually going to get useful information here. And if not, or how useful is it, if it’s not that important, should we be more constrained in how we use certain technical capabilities.

OBAMA: Now, just more specifically, then, on Brazil and Mexico, I said that I would look in to the allegations. Part of the problem is we get these through the press and then I’ve got to go back and find out what’s going on, with respect to these particular allegations. I don’t subscribe to all of these newspapers — although I think the NSA does, now at least.

(LAUGHTER)

And — and then what I assured President Rousseff and President Pena Nieto is that they should take — that I take these allegations very seriously. I understand their concerns. I understand the concerns of the Mexican and Brazilian people; and that we will work with their teams to resolve what is a source of tension.

Now, the last thing I’d say about this, though, is just because there’re tensions doesn’t mean that it overrides all the — incredibly wide-ranging interests that we share with so many of these countries.

And, you know, there’s a reason why I went to Brazil and there’s a reason why I invited President Rousseff to come to the United States. Brazil is an incredibly important country. It is a amazing success story in terms of a transition from authoritarianism to democracy. It is one of the most dynamic economies in the world. And, obviously, for the two largest nations in the hemisphere to have a strong relationship, that can only be good for the people of our two countries as well as the region. Same is true with Mexico, one of our closest friends, allies, and neighbors.

And so, you know, we will work through this particular issue. It does not distract from the larger concerns that we have and the opportunities that we both want to take advantage of.

All right?

Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you, St. Petersburg.

45 comments
scott.heintzeman
scott.heintzeman

We have NO business being in Syria. We do not understand their conflict. And there is nothing to win. Obama believes this is leadership, but real leaders have followers, and no one is following him on this one. If Obama persists, it is time to impeach Obama.

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

It all comes down to one thing. Trust. People just do not trust this ditherer to lead the nation in time of war. He shoots his big mouth off, trying to be a tough guy, paint himself in a corner about red lining, now wants people to save his miserable butt. If not for his credibility but the country image as well. Trying to be a tough guy when you are not. You want a tough guy ? See Putin. Now that is a tough guy. He loves and his country more than Obama loves America.


JohnFrum
JohnFrum

No more endless bites at the apple, misters Dershowitz and Netanyahu


Israeli Apartheid and adventurism, supported by and even carried out by the Israeli Lobby/Neocons, such as ginning up False Flags (in Iraq with the Niger Yellowcake forgeries and all the other Neocon lies – and against Iran (phony ‘smoking Iranian laptop’ or Mossad posing as CIA, etc, etc) or Syria), will NEVER be effectively defeated until we manage to quit fighting on Israel’s terms and at times and places of her choosing. The momentum must be shifted where every Israeli loss weakens her ability to continue her shenanigins


The fight must be taken to the Israelis and they must be taken on many fronts as once – they must be in the ICC unsuccessfully trying to fight anti-Apartheid cases (which even the IDF-legal teams say they will lose) WHILE the EU is strengthening anti-Apartheid boycotts on the ground and WHILE the US is diplomatically negotiating with Iran on the nuclear program.


Israel getting sued for cases she cannot win at the ICC, intensifying EU and other BDS boycotts against her, and NO escape route out by touching off the next 10 year conflagration in the Middle East by bringing in America against Iran or Syria. That’s the Ticket


Israel must be losing on many fronts at once – rather than having the endless bites at the apple which Sen Kerry and Indyk and all the rest of them are making possible for her.


What happens when Israel gets to call the shots, deal with her problems one by one at a place and time of her chosing? – I put forward into evidence Mr Alan Dershowitz


The instant Alan Dershowitz saw the US House vote count reach a majority of 217 he had an article up at Haaretz moving on to the next Israeli scam, a ‘Pre-Authorized US Attack on Iran’, such that any Israeli False Flag could be INSTANTLY responded to by Obama or other American President, without the danger of having the Israeli False Flag exposed by taking the days it takes to get a Senate or House Vote.


This is AIPAC Pre-emptive Rubber-stamping of the next war for Israel and her Lobby – because False Flags tend to be perishable goods – one UN team examining the ground in Syria or Iran is enough to reveal the Israelis or her agents as liars and hoaxers


Israel and Dershowitz must be overwhelmed and effectively continuously trounced – so they are merely REACTING and retreating rather than calling the shots. Israeli Apartheid and her Neocon supporters must be run to ground and defeated and Apartheid dismantled to end the continuous stream of destabilization originating from these groups as they desperately try to keep Apartheid's nose above water. The Neocons have a sanctuary with Apartheid Israel and vice versa - Apartheid has sanctuary with the Neocons.  BOTH need to be dismantled to win.


Give them another moment and they will find a way to mousetrap the US into a war with Iran, having been stymied in Syria for the moment.


Dershowitz is already ON IT

Donplus
Donplus

Please, anyone knows whose idea it was for the UN to only mandate investigating if chemical weapons were used and not to find out the user, how they aquired them and the country of origin? cause we the USA are chiefly the manufacturers of this gas

I am just curious

BibleBeliever
BibleBeliever

Since when did the Congress and US President have any right to go over the head of the America people.  This is a Country BY THE PEOPLE AND FOR THE PEOPLE!



formerlyjames
formerlyjames

Be sure to give those Russian boats waiting to evacuate Russians a wide berth.  

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

President Obama's problems gaining support of the American public include war exhaustion, distrust of the rebel forces, knowing who did what when, the quagmire of the Middle East, among other considerations.  I respect his tendency to make up his own mind after all advise and consideration and I believe the rhetoric and saber rattling will get attention in Damascus and isn't off base, but won't go now.  Talk of cold war rhetoric with Russia seems to me to be on this side.  Not good.

Salman_95051
Salman_95051

How can war bring peace? How can Obama like Bush can change the whole world into heaven? Mr Obama you are simply waging a war. And in war people suffer a lot. On what ground you had been awarded peace prize? 

marin.dinca
marin.dinca

No aggression war can start without the WAR HYSTERIA manufactured by the "media”; that is people who won it. The West is arming one side in the civil war – Russians are arming Syria against Israel’s air attacks (see S-300 antiaircraft missiles). The real question is: would we attack Syria if they are willing to use chemical weapons? Syrians have no place to go. They may use any weapons if faced with extermination. Israel would/may do the same. So, my best hope is that US would just give the Russians a bloody nose by taking out the S-300 antiaircraft missiles… and if Iran moves a finger, we got the chance to take their nuclear facilities out (a slap in the face to the Russians for they have built Iran’s, first nuclear power plant). A “limited” nuclear accident/war is possible in the East Mediterranean Sea –far away from USA! After all, what good make the nuclear (or chemical) weapons if no one is using them?! There is not that much radioactive fallout at sea. There is life now in the Bikini islands… We know all wars are started by cowards. Benjamin Franklin (see his picture on US largest dollar bill!) said: “there never was a good war or a bad peace” or something like that… Today, media treats the American Government as if they are a bunch of teenagers (or mentally retarded) with their talk about “credibility”. Credibility is what we need? We can destroy the life on this planet with our nuclear arsenal. Is there a country/people on the face of the Earth that knows NOT that? At times, God gives a person or a Nation much power and He takes it away if it is abused.

destor23
destor23

Public opinion was against intervention in Rwanda as it happened just after the Somalia fiasco.  Given that no American soldiers were killed in Rwanda and that the U.S. was not sucked into a regional conflict, wasn't the skeptical and war weary public correct in its assessment?

lazell123
lazell123

There are other countries that have more at stake e.g. turkey and even france.    let them be the ones to take action.  we are despised in many parts of the world because we step into conflicts and admonish them if we disagree with their positions.  we are not the world police.     if we go ahead without U.N. taking the lead, then we set precedent for any other country to do whatever they want without U.N. approval.   We must stop being the point person.  Let's use the money we would spend on our children's education, retired military and on our own infrastructure e.g. bridges, dams, roads, etc.    our infrastructure is in desperate need of repair and upgrade.


JohnFrum
JohnFrum

"It's hard to ask an American to be the first man to die in a new 'War of Choice to Preserve Israeli Apartheid' for Bibi Netanyahu and the Israeli Lobby"   - John Kerry

DanBruce
DanBruce

If you think it was wrong for the U.S. to use torture against enemy combatants, then you have to think it was wrong for Assad to gas his own civilians, especially children. If you think we should have held accountable the people in our government who approved using torture, then you must agree that Assad and his cronies must be held accountable for approving the use of sarin gas. Since the Russians and Chinese will block any response by the U.N., and since the Europeans have short memories and cold feet about discouraging the use of gas on innocents, that leaves America to hold Assad accountable.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

The G20 is a 2/3 of the world population.

TrajanSaldana
TrajanSaldana

“Ultimately, you listen to your constituents, but you’ve also got to make some decisions about what you believe is right for America.” -- so "ultimately" you don't listen to your constituents, obviously.

Apostate
Apostate

Democratically elected leaders who cavalierly ignore the wishes of their electorates on whether to attack foreign nations deserve impeachment - extreme of me, but his arrogance is quite chilling.

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

G20. Putin: Russia “will help Syria” in the event of a military strike 

Sibir_Russia
Sibir_Russia

Only Turkey, Canada, Saudi Arabia and France joined the US push for intervention

Russia, China, India, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Italy were among the major world’s economies clearly opposed to military intervention.

BRICS(!) is approximately 42% of the population of the planet

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@ReneDemonteverde It does come down to trust. After being lied into an invasion of Iraq by the last guy in office, trust is a hard thing to regain.

JohnFrum
JohnFrum

@Donplus 


How about the Neocons and Israel?


A five year old sees thru John Kerry

TheOtherSteve
TheOtherSteve

@BibleBeliever The Gettysburg Address is very easy to get right - here it is for those who wish to avoid misquoting it:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

jmac
jmac

@famulla5     Republicans.      He can vote his conscience or he can vote  his job.    Then he can switch yet again when a Republican is in the White House.   

TheOtherSteve
TheOtherSteve

@Salman_95051 War brings peace by killing tyranny.  Tyranny cannot be bargained with; doing so bloodlessly hands the tyrant something he or she should never have: title to your life.  Obama's comments and his desire to ignore the will of the people show him to have tyrannical leanings.  

With tyranny, there is no middle ground.  There is no moderate approach.  Ultimately, there is only death - for you, or the tyrant - because the one thing the tyrant cannot abide is your liberty.  The long-term absence of liberty yields geometrically more suffering than short-term wars.

As for the dubious grounds upon which Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: it was awarded because the Nobel committee, like Obama and other progressives, think the US is as oppressive a nation as South Africa was towards blacks.  The prize was awarded because Obama, "peacefully," rose to the presidency.  The facts about the plight of blacks since Obama took office is, however, an inconvenient (though not unlearnable) truth.

BillPearlman
BillPearlman

@JohnFrum Card carrying member of the Jewish lobby.here. I'm not in favor of intervening. Moslems killing Moslems. Why would we want to screw that up. You and I are on the same page here. 

greyngold
greyngold

@JohnFrum You are a moron - israel care about this to the extent of the risk of preventing chemical weapons falling into al qaeda's hands, but a war to preserve israeli apartheid? really?

tonytman23
tonytman23

and Assad to likewise hold America accountable for instigating this thing from the start

Donplus
Donplus

@DanBruce Just if I can read you with understanding - Who did we hold accountable for the Torture? and what has torture have to do with use of Military force on another sovereign  Nation without a "proof-able cause"? what is your proof that Assad gassed those kids and women? what is the proof that our Intel is even right as in the case of Irag? use your head DanBruce

If you ask me: Seeing is believing, if the proof is there as it is acclaimed and believed by you, I want to see it, that should not be a secret if I am paying for it by any means be it monetary or by servise  

tommyudo
tommyudo

@ViableOp 


The military-industrial complex with their AIPAC friends usually get what they want in the Middle East. I think this time it will be different. The stench left over from the US's "great and glorious" adventure in Iraq has soured the public over these types of adventures. The hypocrisy coming from the GOP Housre right now, after falling supine in 2003, is immense.

DanBruce
DanBruce

@TrajanSaldana In my area (Georgia), the constituents for decades said that it was okay to discriminate against minorities. So, yes, sometimes it is in the national interest for the elected representatives to not listen to their constituents.

TrajanSaldana
TrajanSaldana

which is why Congressional approval is being sought...once Congress votes to authorize force (which it undoubtedly will) impeachment is no longer an option

ReneDemonteverde
ReneDemonteverde

@mantisdragon91 @ReneDemonteverde Oh Mantis. If you will only let a little light into that close brain of yours, what a wonderful world this would be. Again, George Tenet Bill Clinton`s CIA director advised incoming George Bush it was a slam dunk Saddam Hussein have WMDs. Clinton had been angling for the removal of Saddam Hussein based on that finding of his CIA director. And it was the Democratic senators who gave way for the approval of the Iraqi invasion. But that is water under the bridge now. Believe what you will.

DanBruce
DanBruce

@Donplus @DanBruce The reason we have done nothing about those in America who ordered torture is because, like many people on this issue, they either don't believe it happened, didn't have enough "proof," or just did not want to exert the effort.

greyngold
greyngold

@tommyudo @ViableOp Where are you getting that AIPAC has anything to do with this? Its not in Israel's interest to fight this war - the replacement for assad would be worse for them than assad, and they know that. 

Yoshi
Yoshi

Except that this isn't Georgia and Syria cannot attack America.

tonytman23
tonytman23

@TrajanSaldana

excert--Rep Alan Grayson Democracy now interview--yesterday

— The Washington Post whip count as of this morning, there are 19 members of Congress in favor of this resolution and 174 against. And the reasons are simple: It’s not our responsibility, it’s not going to do any good, it’s expensive, and it’s dangerous. And those arguments are winning the day among House members, both Democrat and Republican. The margin among Democrats right now in the House is four-to-one against. The margin among Republicans is over 10-to-one against.

{truncated}

But at this point it’s not relevant, because the public is engaged, the public is paying attention, the public is against this, and the public is adamantly against this. All these organizations sort of fall to the wayside when the public weighs in. There are now both Democratic and Republican members of Congress who have reported that their emails and letters and phone calls to their office are running more than a hundred to one against this. People are against it. They’re adamantly against it.

Donplus
Donplus

@tommyudo @Donplus @DanBruce 

Maybe, but hoe do you explain Libya? he never went to congress initially and again you could be right but I am yet to be convinced 

tommyudo
tommyudo

@Donplus @tommyudo @DanBruce 


Or maybe he's just trying to start a new precedent that has been lost since FDR - when you want to pursue military action you go to Congress to get approval, instead of just throwing out a pack of lies  like was done with  the war criminals, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, et. al. did. To hear Rumsfeld refer to Obama as the "so-called Commander in Chief" and referring to him as "weak" make one's stomach turn. In a moral universe, this guy would be in an orange jump suit living out his days behind bars.

Donplus
Donplus

@tommyudo @DanBruce @Donplus 

Da Udo, We are not Policing the world, especially iin this regime, that's why I am still thinking this was a political stunt, they guy could have bombed them along time ago if he wanted to but everytime there is an escuse or something new, now he wants congressional blessing knowing that he would not be able to get a pay raise for the congress if he wanted to in the first place, that is following 2 weeks of all the news agencies drumming up that the strike is like "tonight ready"

I think this guy is just playing the House of Reps to fight each other and those that jump onboard wont get elected, those that dont will be seen as weak, the guy is a politician afterall 

tommyudo
tommyudo

@DanBruce @Donplus 

Before you get too much more gung ho about chastizing Assad, the US has no moral leg to stand on here. It was the US that supplied Saddam Hussein the poison gas that he used on the Kurds and the Iranian Army in the 1980s, and we turned a blind eye with the old Middle Eastern notion of "The enemy of our enemy is our friend."  Let's not forget the US's other moral black spot - the level of depleted uranium left in Iraq by the US military has now caused Iraq to have the highest rate of birth defects in the world. Wave your American World Policeman flag over that.

Donplus
Donplus

@DanBruce @Donplus We knew it happened and there was a pobe on that, the result was that the action was Authorized that's why there was no one punished for it 

In this case please, what is the proof that Assad Government did the the gassing? that should be an open dialogue, not a back of the room classified information, and the expect me to believe it

It is clear that we are in support of the rebels, yes, we fund and arm them, yes, and they cannot deliver so we have to lie about it and start something that will be worst than Irag and or Afghan?

Show mw the proof and I will swing over

I dont thing the President is actually trying to do it cos he would have done it long ago and then talk about it like in the case of Libya, but dont try to justify the argument based on torture, this is illegal from all point of view