Obama tries to persuade war-weary public on Syria

Assad warns of retaliation

September 09, 2013 05:26 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 09:16 pm IST - WASHINGTON

President Barack Obama prepared his final public arguments for military strikes against Syria before Congress, which returns from holiday on Monday, takes its first vote on the issue this week. The President took the rare step of scheduling six network interviews in an attempt to persuade a sceptical public.

In his own interview, Syrian President Bashar Assad warned there will be “repercussions” for the U.S. for any strike launched in response to a chemical weapons attack. He told American journalist Charlie Rose, “You should expect everything,” not just from the government in that region, and he added, “You are going to pay the price if you are not wise with dealing with terrorists.”

Parts of Sunday’s interview in Damascus were broadcast Monday morning on CBS.

Mr Assad denied making a decision to use chemical weapons against his own people, and he said there is no conclusive evidence about who is to blame in the Aug. 21 attack that the U.S. says killed more than 1,400 people.

The full Assad interview was set to air at 0100 GMT on Rose’s programme on PBS.

Even before the interview was released, the White House criticized it.

“It doesn’t surprise us that someone who would kill thousands of his own people, including hundreds of children with poison gas, would also lie about it,” spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said.

Congress is set to have its first votes authorizing limited strikes into Syria as early as Wednesday. The resolution would authorize the “limited and specified use” of U.S. armed forces against Syria for no more than 90 days. The measure bars American ground troops from combat.

Mr Obama is arguing that limited strikes against Syria are needed for the United States’ long-term safety.

On Tuesday, he will address the nation in a prime-time speech on Syria from the White House.

On Monday, top administration officials were heading to Congress for more classified briefings. And White House national security adviser Susan Rice was scheduled for a speech at a Washington think tank as part of the administration’s argument that it isn’t contemplating another commitment like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Secretary of State John Kerry, appearing Monday at a news conference in London with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, said of Mr Assad- “What does he offer? Words that are contradicted by fact.”

Meanwhile, Russian and Syrian foreign ministers said Monday they will push for the return of United Nations inspectors to Syria to continue their probe into the use of chemical weapons. The chemical weapons inspection team took samples from the Aug. 21 attack several days after it occurred, and they are being analyzed now.

Russia’s Sergey Lavrov said after Monday’s talks with his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moallem that Moscow will continue to promote a peaceful settlement and may try to convene a gathering of all Syrian opposition figures who are interested in peaceful settlement.

Mr Lavrov said that a U.S. attack on Syria will deal a fatal blow to peace efforts.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is scheduled to speak Monday at a White House event on wildlife trafficking, planned to reiterate her support of Obama’s efforts to pass the Syria resolution, according to a Clinton aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly.

Despite public backing from leaders of both top political parties to strike, almost half of the 433 current members in the House of Representatives and a third of the 100-member Senate remain undecided, an Associated Press survey found.

Mr Obama and his allies were arguing that the United States needs to remind hostile nations such as Iran and North Korea of U.S. military might. But polls show many Americans are weary after more than a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Public opinion surveys show intense American scepticism about military intervention in Syria, even among those who believe Syria’s government used chemical weapons on its people.

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