Obama, Kerry indicate attack on Syria imminent

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Photo: AFP

Washington, 31 Aug (PTI): Indicating that an attack on Syria is imminent, President Barack Obama declared that the US had an obligation to punish Damascus for allegedly using chemical weapons and said a possible military strike would be limited “with no boots on the ground”.

“We’re not considering any open ended commitment. We’re not considering any boots on the ground approach,” Obama told reporters on 30 August but emphasised that he has “not made any decisions” about what actions the US will take. “We have consulted with allies. We have consulted with Congress,” he said after Secretary of State John Kerry indicated that the US is preparing to go alone on Syria.

He said that whatever the US does, it would not be a ‘major operation’. “I have said before, and I meant what I said that the world has an obligation to make sure that we maintain the norm against the use of chemical weapons,” he said.

Emerging out of a situation room meeting headed by President Obama, Kerry confirmed that the US would not seek approval of the UN Security Council for an attack because of the opposition from Russia on the use of military force. “Because of the guaranteed Russian obstructionism of any action through the UN Security Council, UN cannot galvanise the world to act as it should. So let me be clear. We will continue talking to the Congress, talking to our allies, and most importantly, talking to the American people,” Kerry said.

Syrian opposition and the West have accused President Bashar Al-Assad of using chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb killing hundreds of people, a charge denied by the government. Kerry claimed on 21 August that chemical weapons attack near Damascus had killed at least 1,429 Syrians, 426 of them children. He called the Syrian President “a thug and a murderer” and pledged that the US response “will not involve any boots on the ground and it will not be open ended.”

“We have a President who does what he says that he will do. And he has said very clearly, that whatever decision he makes in Syria it will bear no resemblance to Afghanistan, Iraq or even Libya. President Obama will ensure that the US makes its own decisions on our own timelines, based on our values and our interests. Now, we know that after a decade of conflict, the American people are tired of war. Believe me, I am, too. But fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility,” Kerry said, indicating that a strike against Syria is imminent. “Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about. And history would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency, these things we do know. The President has been clear: Any action that he might decide to take will be limited and a tailored response to ensure that, a despot’s brutal and flagrant use of chemical weapons is held accountable,” he added.

Soon after Kerry’s remarks, Syria said his claims that Damascus used chemical weapons was “entirely fabricated” and a poorly crafted document based on social media inputs. “What the US administration describes as irrefutable evidence… is nothing but tired legends that the terrorists have been circulating for more than a week, with their share of lies and entirely fabricated stories,” a Syrian foreign ministry statement read out on state television said. It expressed surprise that “a superpower could mislead opinion so clumsily, relying on evidence that does not exist, and that the United States could base policies on matters of war and peace on social media and websites.”

The White House said that President Obama had called his French counterpart Francois Hollande and UK Prime Minister David Cameroon to discuss the Syria situation after his administration released the intelligence assessment of the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. Obama and Hollande agreed that the “international community cannot tolerate the use of chemicals weapons” and “must hold the regime accountable” and send a strong message that the use of chemical weapons is not acceptable. “The US and France are close allies and friends, and we will continue to consult closely with France on Syria and other global security challenges,” they said.

Meanwhile, differences emerged among US lawmakers on the approach the United States should take to hold the regime accountable for the alleged use of chemical weapons. Powerful Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said on 30 August that the US should not undertake a kinetic strike before the UN inspectors complete their work.

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