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Obama 'red line' on Syrian chemical weapons gets a bit grayer

President Obama has said Syria's use of chemical weapons would be a 'red line.' Evidence is mounting, but Obama's desire for an international response throws prospects for action into doubt.

By Staff writer / April 30, 2013

President Obama answers questions during his news conference in the White House in Washington Tuesday. He said he'd consider military action against Syria if it can be confirmed that President Bashar al-Assad's government used chemical weapons in the country's civil war.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

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Washington

President Obama on Tuesday appeared to rule out any unilateral US intervention in Syria no matter what the ongoing investigation of chemical weapons use there reveals – a position that conforms to Mr. Obama’s strong preference for collective action in the international arena, but one that could also lower the prospects for intervention.

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Speaking at a White House press conference, the president said that not the US alone but the “international community” as well has to be confident in the evidence that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons before action can be taken.

Obama again used the word “game changer” to define what the proven use of chemical weapons would constitute for him, but his reference to the international community hinted at what he may be envisioning if intervention becomes necessary.

“If I can establish, in a way that not only the United States but also the international community feel confident is the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, then that is a game changer,” Obama said.

In a second reference to some eventual collective action in Syria, Obama said a hasty determination of the who, what, and where of chemical weapons use in Syria could make it more difficult to assemble a broad coalition to take action.

“If we rush to judgment without hard evidence,” he said the US “could find ourselves unable to mobilize the international community.”  

Obama’s words stand in stark contrast to the “go it alone” stance of President George W. Bush, who tried to convince the international community to join the US in invading Iraq, but who in the end went ahead with a reduced “coalition of the willing.”

In public comments on Syria, the Obama administration has repeatedly made veiled references to the Iraq invasion – and to the Bush administration’s insistence upon what turned out to be faulty intelligence concerning Saddam Hussein’s stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.

Obama has said since last August that any use or transfer of Syria’s chemical weapons would constitute a “red line” for the US, but he has not specified what US action would follow.

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