President Obama delivers a speech at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., in May.

President Obama delivers a speech at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., in May. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Obama: Strike Against Syria Would Be a 'Shot Across the Bow'

President Obama said a internationally backed military strike against Syria would punish the regime for using chemical weapons. By Stephanie Gaskell

President Obama said there needs to be “international consequences” for using chemical weapons but stressed he has “no interest in an open-ended conflict” in Syria.

Speaking to PBS Newshour on Wednesday evening, Obama said he still has not made a decision on whether to launch a military strike against the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons during a strike outside Damascus last week. Obama said he has “concluded” that the Syrians launched the attack that killed hundreds of civilians.

“We do not believe that, given the delivery systems, using rockets, that the opposition could have carried out these attacks,” he said. “We have concluded that the Syrian government in fact carried these out. And if that’s so, then there need to be international consequences.” A year ago, Obama said any use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war would cross a “red line” and prompt a response.

“If, in fact, we can take limited, tailored approaches, not getting drawn into a long conflict, not a repetition of, you know, Iraq, which I know a lot of people are worried about,” Obama said, “but if we are saying in a clear and decisive but very limited way, we send a shot across the bow saying, stop doing this, that can have a positive impact on our national security over the long term.”

Doctors Without Borders said three hospitals in Damascus saw “approximately 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms in less than three hours on August 21.” And Foreign Policy reported that U.S. intelligence intercepted a call from the Syrian Defense Ministry in which panicked officials talked about the chemical attack. Still, Obama said is still consulting with allies on how to respond. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told BBC earlier this week that the U.S. military is “ready to go” should the president order an attack on Syria.

“I have no interest in any kind of open-ended conflict in Syria, but we do have to make sure that when countries break international norms on weapons like chemical weapons that could threaten us, that they are held accountable,” Obama said.

“We don’t have good options, great options, for the region. But what I am clear about is that if the United States stands by its core values and its core interests; if we’re very clear about making sure that we’re stopping terrorist attacks against the United States; if we are very clear about our, you know, commitment to the safety and security of Israel; if we are clear about the free flow of energy throughout the region that affects the entire global economy; but also if we’re clear about our values and that we believe in inclusive governments, that we believe in the protection of minority rights, that we believe in women’s rights, that we believe that over time it’s better for governments to be representative of the will of their people, as opposed to being, you know, dictated to by authoritarian governments; if we are consistent in those principles, then eventually, I think, we’ll be better off,” he said. “But it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to have some very difficult problems in – in the meantime.”

At a meeting of the U.S. Security Council in New York on Wednesday to consider a resolution submitted by British Prime Minister David Cameron to allow “necessary measures” to stop any further use of chemical weapons, Russia again blocked any action against Syria.

“We’ve consistently said that we support U.N. Security Council action,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said after the meeting. “My understanding is that today we heard nothing different from the Russians in today’s meeting than we have for months and, indeed, years about Syria, including -- let’s just go through some of the history here -- three vetoes of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Just last week, the Russians blocked a press statement – a potential press statement condemning the attack without even assigning culpability. So we have no reason to believe that efforts at the Security Council would be any different than these previous efforts that have failed.”

[Click for Defense One's complete coverage of Syria.]

Obama said he was willing to work through diplomatic channels, including talks with the Russians, to find a political solution to the civil war, but he stressed that he felt a moral obligation to strongly condemn the use of chemical weapons. U.S. administration officials said they were still trying to determine the exact goal of a military strike. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. isn’t seeking regime change, but also said that Syrian President Bashar al Assad cannot remain in power.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon asked the international community to “give peace a chance” in Syria before deciding whether to respond to evidence of a chemical weapons strike with military force.

“Now we have reached the most serious moment in this conflict,” Ban said, amid the backdrop of the 100-year anniversary of The Hague’s International Court of Justice on Wednesay. “The latest escalation has caused horrendous casualties.  And through images unlike any we have seen in the 21st century, it has also raised the spectre of chemical warfare. The use of chemical weapons by anyone, for any reasons, under any circumstances, would be an atrocious violation of international law. It is essential to establish the facts.  A United Nations investigation team is now on the ground to do just that.”

Ban said the U.N. inspection team “needs time to do its job.”

“Here in the Peace Palace, let us say: Give peace a chance. Give diplomacy a chance. Stop fighting and start talking,” Ban said. “The military logic has given us a country on the verge of total destruction, a region in chaos and a global threat.  Why add more fuel to the fire?”

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