Obama: It's the world's 'red line' on Syria; Senate panel backs military strike plan

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 9/4/2013, 5:14 p.m.
President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the world set a red line against chemical weapons use that he now seeks ...
Secretary of State John Kerry

The administration and top congressional leaders attempted to blunt that criticism on Tuesday during debate on Capitol Hill. Even House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the chamber's No. 2 Republican, said any president would have drawn that red line based on international norms.

Obama made that same argument on Wednesday, saying: "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line."

"The world set a red line when governments representing 98 percent of the world's population said the use of chemical weapons are abhorrent and passed a treaty forbidding their use, even when countries are engaged in war," he said at a joint news conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on the first day of a four-day trip that includes the G-20 summit in Russia.

"Congress set a red line when it ratified that treaty," Obama continued. "Congress set a red line when it indicated that in a piece of legislation entitled the 'Syria Accountability Act' that some of the horrendous things that are happening on the ground there need to be answered for."

Sounding exasperated, Obama added: "That wasn't something I just kind of made up. I didn't pluck it out of thin air. There's a reason for it."

Obama prods international community to act

Asked about whether he was seeking to save face, Obama insisted that "my credibility is not on the line -- the international community's credibility is on the line."

He framed the question for the United Nations and the global community at large as: "Are we going to try to find a reason not to act? And if that's the case, then I think the (world) community should admit it."

Opposition by Russia, a Syrian ally, has scuttled U.S. and British efforts to get the U.N. Security Council to authorize a military response against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

U.N. inspectors returned from Syria last week from their mission to confirm if chemical weapons were used, but Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday it would take three weeks for samples collected to analyzed and results announced.

"I respect the U.N. process," Obama said while standing next to Reinfeldt, who opposes military intervention without U.N. approval.

"We agree that the international community cannot be silent," Obama added, saying also that the U.N. investigators had done "heroic work."

Noting the U.N. team's mandate was only to determine the use of chemical weapons, and not identify who used them, Obama repeated past statements that U.S. intelligence has confirmed chemical weapons use beyond any reasonable doubt and has further confirmed that al-Assad's regime "was the source."

"I do think that we have to act, because if we don't, we are effectively saying that even though we may condemn it and issue resolutions and so forth and so on, somebody who is not shamed by resolutions can continue to act with impunity," Obama said.

International norms then "begin to erode," he added, and "other despots and authoritarian regimes can start looking and say, 'that's something we can get away with.'"