STOCKHOLM - US President Barack Obama Wednesday urged world support for punitive strikes against Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons.
Obama, fresh from efforts in Washington to secure bipartisan support for military intervention, said in Stockholm that the world had set “a red line” for Syria and it could not now remain silent in the face of the regime’s alleged strike on Damascus suburbs with chemical weapons.
“I didn’t set a red line. The world set a red line,” Obama said, referring to international rules banning the use of chemical weapons, even in case of war.
“My credibility is not on the line,” Obama said in remarks after arriving in Sweden for a two-day visit. “The international community’s credibility is on the line and America and Congress’s credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important,” he said.
Obama’s trip will also take him to the G20 summit in Russia’s Saint Petersburg, where he is expected to rally support for, or at least acceptance of, moves to punish Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad for an alleged deadly gas attack in Damascus suburbs last month.
White House officials have said Obama will hold meetings on the sidelines of G20 with French President Francois Hollande, the main foreign backer of a strike on Syria, as well as the leaders of China and Japan.
While no formal bilateral meeting is planned with Russian President Vladimir Putin, a strong supporter of Assad, a White House official suggested there likely would be some kind of dialogue.
Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad, in an exclusive interview with AFP, said his government was ready to retaliate in the event of a military strike. “The Syrian government will not change position even if there is World War III. No Syrian can sacrifice the independence of his country,” Muqdad said.
“Syria has taken every measure to retaliate against... an aggression,” he added, refusing to elaborate.
He also stressed that Syria’s important ally Russia had not wavered in its support, despite comments by Putin suggesting a more conciliatory tone towards the West.
Both Iran and Russia have warned that any military intervention would have devastating regional consequences.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama’s plan to conduct punishing military strikes on Syria passed its first congressional hurdle Wednesday, paving the way for full Senate debate on the use of force.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee passed an amended resolution 10-7, with one senator voting present, that authorises US military intervention with a 90-day deadline and bars US boots on the ground for combat purposes.
Arab nations have offered to help pay for any US military intervention in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers Wednesday in Washington as he sought support for missile strikes.
“With respect to Arab countries offering to bear the cost and to assist, the answer is profoundly yes, they have. That offer is on the table,” Kerry said as he appeared before a House of Representatives panel. The offer was “quite significant,” he said.
“Some of them have said that if the United States is prepared to go do the whole thing the way we’ve done it previously in other places, they’ll carry that cost. That’s how dedicated they are to this.”
But he stressed: “Obviously, that is not in the cards and nobody is talking about it, but they are talking about taking seriously getting this job done.”
He was appearing before the House Foreign Affairs committee on the second day of the administration’s blitz on Capitol Hill to persuade lawmakers to approve limited military strikes.
Washington has led charges that the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad unleashed sarin gas on August 21 against the residents of a Damascus suburb killing what a US intelligence report said was some 1,400 people.
President Barack Obama has insisted that Assad’s regime has crossed a red line against the use of such horrific weapons and should be punished and his military capability degraded.
But in a sign of the depth of opposition involvement in Syria, anti-war demonstrators held up red-stained hands behind Kerry’s head in a silent protest during his testimony.
Lawmakers are now drafting a resolution to go before Congress which would give the US administration a 60-day deadline for military intervention, which could be extended once for 30 more days. It would also bar any American boots on the ground.
Asked if the time limit was acceptable to administration, Kerry said it would be preferable to have “a trigger in there” if Assad used chemical weapons again.
He indicated that a move to give the White House a further 60 days every time such arms were used would be acceptable.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee meanwhile held a three-hour, classified session to try to thrash out a draft resolution after Republican veteran Senator John McCain appeared to balk at the plan because he felt it did not go far enough.