In an interview with CNN Monday, President Obama said a Russian proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles under international control would be a “positive development” if “real.”
“It’s possible if it’s real, and, you know, I think it’s certainly a positive development when the Russians and the Syrians both make gestures towards dealing with these chemical weapons,” Obama said. “This is what we’ve been asking for, not just over the last week or the last month, but for the last couple of years, because these chemical weapons pose a significant threat to all nations and to the United States in particular.”
The president then reiterated the point the White House had been making continuously throughout the day: This solution would not have been possible without the threat of U.S. military intervention.
“I have to say that it’s unlikely that we would have arrived at that point where there were even public statements like that without a credible military threat to deal with the chemical weapons use inside of Syria,” Obama said. “But we’re going to run this to ground. John Kerry and the rest of my national security team will engage with the Russians and the international community to see, can we arrive at something that is enforceable and serious?”
Secretary of State John Kerry said in London Monday that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad could avoid a U.S. attack by “turning over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting.”
The Russian foreign minister subsequently made that offer to Syria, and the Syrian foreign minister reportedly welcomed the idea. Since then, the State Department has tried to walk back Kerry’s statement, with spokeswoman Marie Harf calling it a “rhetorical statement about a scenario that we think is highly unlikely” at a press briefing.
The president said the plan might have a chance at success because Syria’s allies, such as Iran “detest chemical weapons.” Iran came under attack from chemical weapons during the 1980s by the Iraqi military during the Iran-Iraq War.
“You know, one reason this may have a chance of success is that even syria’s allies like Iran detest chemical weapons,” the president said. “Iran, you know, unfortunately was the target of chemical weapons at the hands of Saddam Hussein back at the Iraq/Iran war, so we may be able to arrive at a consensus in which it doesn’t solve the underlying problems of a civil war in Syria, but it does solve the problem that i’m trying to focus on right now, which is making sure you don’t have over 400 children gassed indiscriminately by these chemical weapons.”
Speaking with CBS President Obama responded to a question about U.S. public opinion being against him by saying he would use his address to the nation tomorrow night to make the case to the American people.
“I’ll have a chance to talk to the American people directly tomorrow. I don’t expect that it’s going to suddenly swing the polls wildly in the direction of another military engagement,” Obama said. “If you ask the average person, including my household, ‘Do we need another military engagement?’ I think the answer generally is going be no. But what I’m going try to propose is, is that we have a very specific objective, a very narrow military option, and one that will not lead into some large-scale invasion of Syria or involvement or boots on the ground, nothing like that. This isn’t like Iraq. It’s not like Afghanistan. It’s not even like Libya.”
Of the vote to authorize military action against Syria in the House of Represenatives and the Senate Obama said to NBC News “I wouldn’t say I’m confident” that a Syria vote will pass the House.”