WASHINGTON, D.C. (KPIX 5/AP) — President Barack Obama said in a nationally televised address Tuesday evening that recent diplomatic steps offer “the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons” inside Syria without the use of force, but he also insisted the U.S. military will keep the pressure on President Bashar Assad “and be ready to respond” if other measures fail.
Speaking from the East Room of the White House, Obama said he had asked congressional leaders to postpone a vote on legislation he has been seeking to authorize the use of military force against Syria.
Acknowledging the weariness the nation feels after a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama said, “America is not the world’s policeman.”
And yet, he added, “When with modest effort and risk we can stop children from being gassed to death and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act. That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional.”
“Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria,” he declared.
Members of the Bay Area Congressional delegation told KPIX 5 they were grateful there was a possible diplomatic solution to explore.
“As the Obama Administration continues to pursue a diplomatic resolution, the President justly made clear tonight that the threat of military action remains on the table as we continue to work to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction, a pillar of our national security,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), the only one out of 13 Bay Area representatives who has backed Obama’s call for a military strike.
“I support the president’s decision to delay a vote seeking authorization for the use of military force from Congress in order to pursue a diplomatic solution,” said Congressman Mike Thompson, who represents portions of Contra Costa, Lake, Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties. “After several intelligence briefings, I remain skeptical that a limited U.S. military strike will be effective in diminishing Assad’s ability to carry out a chemical weapons attack or deter his willingness to use weapons of mass destruction in the future.”
Administration officials said the speech was the sixth Obama has made to the nation from the White House in more than 4 1/2 years as president. It capped a frenzied 10-day stretch that began when he unexpectedly announced he was stepping back from a threatened military strike and asking Congress to pass legislation authorizing the use of force against Assad.
With public opinion polls consistently showing widespread opposition to American military intervention, the White House has struggled mightily to generate support among lawmakers — liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans alike — who have expressed fears of involvement in yet another war in the Middle East and have questioned whether U.S. national security interests were at stake in Syria. Obama had trouble, as well, building international support for a military attack designed to degrade Assad’s military.
Suddenly, though, events took another unexpected turn on Monday. First Russia and then Syria reacted positively to a seemingly off-hand remark from Secretary of State John Kerry indicating that the crisis could be defused if Damascus agreed to put its chemical weapons under international control.
The president said he was sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Thursday, and he added, “I will continue my own discussion” with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
At the same time, he said the United States and its allies would work with Russia and China to present a resolution to the United Nations Security Council “requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control.”
In a speech that lasted 16 minutes, Obama recounted the events of the deadly chemical weapons attack on Aug. 21 that the United States blames on Assad.
“When dictators commit atrocities, they depend upon the world to look the other way until these horrifying pictures fade from memory. But these things happened. The facts cannot be denied,” he said.
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