Obama: Even with Russian plan on Syria, a military option is still needed (+video)
President Obama's address to the nation was nearly upstaged by a Russian plan to destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. But threat of a military strike prompted Russia and Assad to act – and is needed if diplomacy fails, he says.
With a Russian plan to peacefully address Syria’s chemical weapons suddenly grabbing the global stage, President Obama modified an address to the American people Tuesday evening from what was to have been a laser-like focus on military intervention to include a vision of how diplomacy might yet work.Skip to next paragraph
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But in a crisp 15-minute East Room speech, Mr. Obama still pressed to make the case to a war-weary public that stopping the use and spread of Syria’s chemical weapons is of such vital national interest that military action may yet be necessary.
“Our ideals and principles, as well as our national security, are at stake in Syria,” Obama said, adding that not addressing what he said was Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s proven use of chemical weapons last month would loosen the decades-old global ban on such use.
It could eventually leave US troops vulnerable to attacks by such weapons, he added, and lead other countries, such as Iran, to believe they can pursue weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, with impunity.
“A failure to stand against the use of chemical weapons would weaken the prohibitions on other weapons of mass destruction,” he said, citing Iran and its nuclear program, which the US and other Western powers suspect is aimed at developing a nuclear bomb.
Obama cited some of what he said were the many expressions of opposition to military action he has received, including from veterans, making clear that he understands the uphill battle he faces to convince a skeptical public.
Just hours before he addressed the nation, he appeared to be on the verge of losing a vote in Congress authorizing the use of force in Syria, and the sudden diplomatic gambit, in the form of a Russian proposal for international control and eventual destruction of Syria’s substantial chemical weapons stockpiles, clearly made the case for the use of force that much more difficult.
But the president said now is no time to take military action off the table. If 11th-hour diplomatic efforts on Syria are fruitful, it will be because the US prodded key players in the crisis – notably Russia and Mr. Assad – into action by threatening an imminent use of force, he said.
Obama said his administration will be at the forefront of diplomatic efforts over the coming days: Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Geneva Thursday to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the US will work at the United Nations to forge a Security Council resolution to compel Syria to give up its chemical weapons, and Obama will pursue discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin about the diplomatic path forward.
Mr. Putin said earlier Tuesday that a plan to take control of and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons could only work if the US committed to taking no military action against Syria.