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Obama: Time is Nearing for a Definitive Response on Syria

Alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria "is clearly a big event of grave concern," says U.S. President.
By Elad Benari, Canada
First Publish: 8/23/2013, 9:51 PM

Obama
Obama
Flash 90

U.S. President Barack Obama, who is under pressure to act on reports that the Syrian government staged a chemical attack on civilians, said on Friday that the time is nearing for a potentially definitive U.S. response to the alleged Syrian government atrocities.

The U.S. remains "one indispensable nation" in the volatile Middle East and elsewhere, Obama told CNN’s Chris Cuomo.

"We have to think through strategically what's going to be in our long term national interests," he said.

Asked whether the U.S. government is now facing a "more abbreviated time frame" on key decisions in Egypt and Syria, Obama repeatedly gave a one-word response: yes.

Asked about claims by anti-regime activists in Syria that Bashar Al-Assad's government used chemical weapons in an attack that was said to have killed more than 1,300 people, Obama responded that officials are "right now gathering information" and that "what we've seen indicates that this is clearly a big event of grave concern."

"It is very troublesome," he stressed. On Thursday, Obama ordered local spy agencies to urgently probe claims of the chemical attack in Syria.

He said U.S. officials are pushing "to prompt better action" from the United Nations, and are calling on the Syrian government to allow an investigation of the site of the alleged attack outside Damascus.

"We don't expect cooperation (from the Syrian government), given their past history," Obama conceded.

He quickly followed up with a warning, however, that "core national interests" of the U.S. are now involved in Syria's civil war, "both in terms of us making sure that weapons of mass destruction are not proliferating, as well as needing to protect our allies, our bases in the region."

Cuomo asked Obama to respond to harsh criticism from his 2008 presidential rival, Arizona GOP Sen. John McCain, who told CNN a day earlier that America's credibility in the region has been damaged by a slow administration response in both Syria and Egypt.

"When the president of the United States says that if he uses these weapons that it would be a, quote, 'red line and a game-changer,' (Assad) now sees that as a green light," McCain said.

In response, Obama said, "I am sympathetic to Senator McCain's passion for helping people work through what is an extraordinarily difficult and heartbreaking situation, both in Syria and in Egypt. But what I think the American people also expect me to do as president is to think through what we do from the perspective of what is in our long term national interests."

Obama said last year that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a "red line" and force a tough U.S. response, but so far has failed to deliver such a response other than deciding to directly arm selected Syrian rebel groups without publicly specifying the extent of the support.

"If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a UN mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it," Obama told CNN.

"Do we have the coalition to make it work?" he asked. "You know, those are considerations that we have to take into account."

The costs of military action "have to take those into account as we try to work within an international framework to do everything we can to see Assad ousted," Obama concluded.

(Arutz Sheva’s North American Desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)