Obama: Congress, world credibility on the line with Syria

9:12 AM, Sep 4, 2013   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) - President Obama said on Wednesday that international credibility is on the line with how the world responds to Bashar Assad regime's suspected use of chemical weapons.

"My credibility is not on the line," Obama said. "International credibility is on the line."

Obama added: "The question is how credible is the international community when it says this is an international norm that has to be observed? The question is how credible is Congress when it passes a treaty saying we have to forbid the use of chemical weapons."

The comments came during a news conference in Stockholm, where he is meeting with Sweden's Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt before heading to the G-20 summit in Russia, where he is expected to continue his push for international support of a military strike in response to a suspected chemical attack by the Assad regime two weeks ago.

The visit by Obama marks the first bilateral visit by a U.S. president to Sweden.

The two leaders are discussing economic issues, trade, climate change, and Obama also said he updated Reinfeldt on his pursuit of congressional authorization for a military strike against Syria

Reinfeldt, while saying that those behind the chemical attack in Syria should be held responsible, expressed his country's stance that any action should be taken under the auspices of the United Nations--something that is unlikely since Russia has blocked any potential U.N. Security Council mandated action against the Bashar Assad regime.

Obama said he respects the U.N. process and said the U.N. investigators who gathered evidence in the area of the suspected attack did "heroic work.:

But, Obama added, "we believe that chemical weapons were used," and that he has high confidence that Assad "was the source.

Members of the Senate Foreign Relations committee hammered out a deal on Tuesday evening that would set a 60-day deadline for military action in Syria, with one 30-day extension possible. The committee is expected to vote on the resolution on Wednesday.

Obama's hopes of winning congressional backing for a military strike against Syria received a huge lift on Tuesday when two top House Republicans announced their support of taking military action against Syria

Both House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., endorsed Obama's call for action against Assad's regime following a meeting with Obama and other lawmakers at the White House on Tuesday.

Obama was asked on Wednesday what he would do if congress rejects his call for use-of-force authorization.

"I believe that Congress will approve it," Obama said.

Obama also defended his earlier call of the use of chemical weapons by Syria a "red line" that Assad must not cross.

"That's not something I just made up. I didn't pluck it out of thin air." Obama said referring to international standards prohibiting the use of chemical weapons in combat. "I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line."

Obama decided to make the visit to Sweden ahead of the G-20 summit after scratching a trip to Moscow, because of disputes with Russian President Vladimir Putin over Syria and Russia's decision to give former NSA contractor Edward Snowden temporary asylum.

Obama said he would continue to work with Putin, while acknowledging they've "hit a wall" in their relationship.

He also said he hasn't ruled out Putin changing his position on Assad.

"I am always hopeful," Obama said.

"I have not written off the idea that the United States and Russia are going to continue to have common interests even as we have some very profound differences on some other issues," Obama added. "And where are interests overlap, we should pursue common action."

Obama also addressed international concerns about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs. The United States has faced criticism from European leaders in the aftermath of Snowden leaking information about the once secret programs.

"I can give assurances to the public in Europe and around the world that we're not going around snooping at people's e-mails or listening to their phone calls," Obama said. "What we try to do is target very specifically areas of concern."

USA TODAY

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