WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama pushed back Sunday on the notion that he had bungled the response to the Syrian crisis, saying his policy is working.
“I’m less concerned about style points. I’m much more concerned with getting the policy right,” Obama told ABC News in an exclusive interview on its “This Week.” programme. “What I’ve said consistently throughout is that - the chemical weapons issue is a problem. I want that problem dealt with,” he said. Obama - who initially called for punitive military action against against Syria before a workable diplomatic plan emerged last week - said that a bad policy could have a smooth rollout and vice versa.
“My entire goal throughout this exercise is to make sure what happened on Aug. 21 does not happen again,” the president said the large-scale chemical weapons attack outside Damascus that he said killed more than 1,400 civilians. “We have the possibility of making sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said. The Obama administration estimates 1,429 were killed in the incident – including hundreds of children and placed the blame squarely on Syrian government use of deadly Sarin gas. But Moscow has bitterly disagreed, maintaining President Assad’s opposition may be at fault for use of the lethal toxin. Russia has made this accusation against the rebels during prior incidents of the war.
Critics of the president on both the left and the right have accused him of a meandering response to Syria’s bloody ongoing civil war and a failure to effectively communicate to the American people a compelling case for action.“Folks here in Washington like to grade on style,” Obama said.
“Had we rolled out something that was very smooth and disciplined and linear they would have graded it well, even if it was a disastrous policy.”“We know that, ‘cause that’s exactly how they graded the Iraq War until it ended up blowing in our face,” he said.
Obama also warned Iran - whose alleged nuclear program has been an ongoing issue for the international community - that they should not draw any lessons from the Syrian regime’s ability to avoid a military strike.“My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn’t draw a lesson that we haven’t struck to think we won’t strike Iran. On the other hand, what is - what - they should draw from this lesson is that there is the potential of resolving these issues diplomatically,” Obama said.
Republicans - even those supportive of the strikes - have accused the Obama administration of an unsteady diplomatic and military response to the rapidly unfolding situation in the Middle East. On Sunday, the Republican criticism of the tentative deal called the deal a coup for the Russians - and their outspoken president, Vladimir Putin.”I’m skeptical,” said House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers, a Republican, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “This is a Russian plan for Russian interests. And we should be very, very concerned.”
Agencies add: A US-Russian plan to remove Syria’s chemical weapons is a ‘victory’ that averts a war, a Syrian minister said Sunday, as Washington’s top diplomat briefed Israel about the landmark deal.
“On one hand, it helps the Syrians emerge from the crisis and on the other it has allowed for averting war against Syria...,” Minister of State for National Reconciliation Ali Haidar told Russian news agency Ria Novosti. “It’s a victory for Syria that was achieved thanks to our Russian friends.” His remarks came as US Secretary of State John Kerry met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to brief him on the plan to eradicate Syria’s chemical weapons. Washington is seeking to bolster international support for the agreement inked in Geneva on Saturday, which demands action from Damascus within days.
UN leaders have “agonized” over a report that Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will present Monday on chemical weapons in Syria that could renew pressure on President Bashar al-Assad, officials said.
The deal won the backing of China, a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council, which like Russia has vetoed several UN resolutions on Syria.
The threat of US military action against Syria remains “real”, Washington’s top diplomat said on Sunday a day after striking a deal with Russia to destroy Damascus’s chemical weapons stockpile. “The threat of force remains, the threat is real,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said at a news conference in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“We cannot have hollow words in the conduct of international affairs.”
The Syrian rebels, fighting to oust Assad since March 2011, have rejected the deal, warning it would not halt the conflict that has killed more than 110,000 people and displaced millions.
“Are we Syrians supposed to wait until mid-2014, to continue being killed every day and to accept (the deal) just because the chemical arms will be destroyed in 2014?” asked Free Syrian Army chief General Selim Idriss.
But in Damascus there was a flicker of hope the end of the devastating 30-month conflict may be in sight.
“We have more hope now, after this agreement. We might be able to see an end to terrorism and the troubles that we’ve had no part in creating,” beauty salon owner Muna Ibo said.
President Barack Obama welcomed the US-Russian deal, but said the pressure was now on Assad to deliver.
And he warned that Washington, which has threatened military strikes against Syria in response to last month’s chemical attacks, “remains prepared to act”.
Obama said in an interview broadcast Sunday that he was pleased that Russian President Vladimir Putin had taken responsibility for his “client,” — Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad.
Obama also denied in an interview on ABC News that he had been outfoxed by Putin in accepting a deal to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stocks, after stepping back from the use of US military force.
“I welcome him being involved. I welcome him saying, ‘I will take responsibility for pushing my client, the Assad regime— to deal with these chemical weapons,’ Obama told the ABC News program “This Week.”
Rebel fighters expressed disdain for US President Barack Obama after he backed away from striking over alleged chemical weapons attacks, saying the world does not care about Syria. Leaders of two rebel brigades in the northern city of Aleppo, speaking to AFP after agreeing to join forces, also accused Russia and the regime of Bashar al-Assad of conspiring to buy time for the Syrian president to press his campaign against those seeking to overthrow him.
Sidelined from the US-Russia negotiations on chemical weapons, France is determined that demands for President Bashar al-Assad to be tried for war crimes do not drop off the rapidly shifting international agenda.
Publicly, France hailed Saturday’s deal in Geneva to eliminate Assad’s deadly chemical arsenal by mid-2014.
But privately there is disquiet in Paris about an accord that some fear could bestow renewed legitimacy on Assad, consolidate his grip on power and stall moves to bolster the opposition coalition that France has championed.