Transcript: President Obama on the use of chemical weapons in Syria – April 30, 2013 press conference
Transcript of remarks by President Barack Obama on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The press conference was held on April 30, 2013:
On Syria, you said that the red line was not just about chemical weapons being used but being spread, and it was a game-changer — it seemed cut and dry. And now your administration seems to be suggesting that line is not clear. Do you risk U.S. credibility if you don’t take military action?
President Barack Obama:
Well, first of all, on Syria, I think it’s important to understand that for several years now what we’ve been seeing is a slowly unfolding disaster for the Syrian people. And this is not a situation in which we’ve been simply bystanders to what’s been happening. My policy from the beginning has been that President Assad had lost credibility, that he attacked his own people, has killed his own people, unleashed a military against innocent civilians, and that the only way to bring stability and peace to Syria is going to be for Assad to step down and to move forward on a political transition.
In pursuit of that strategy we’ve organized the international community. We are the largest humanitarian donor. We have worked to strengthen the opposition. We have provided nonlethal assistance to the opposition. We have applied sanctions on Syria. So there are a whole host of steps that we’ve been taking precisely because, even separate from the chemical weapons issue, what’s happening in Syria is a blemish on the international community generally, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to protect the Syrian people.
In that context, what I’ve also said is that the use of chemical weapons would be a game-changer not simply for the United States but for the international community. And the reason for that is that we have established international law and international norms that say when you use these kinds of weapons you have the potential of killing massive numbers of people in the most inhumane way possible, and the proliferation risks are so significant that we don’t want that genie out of the bottle. So when I said that the use of chemical weapons would be a game-changer, that wasn’t unique to — that wasn’t a position unique to the United States and it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
And what we now have is evidence that chemical weapons have been used inside of Syria, but we don’t know how they were used, when they were used, who used them. We don’t have a chain of custody that establishes what exactly happened. And when I am making decisions about America’s national security and the potential for taking additional action in response to chemical weapon use, I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the facts. That’s what the American people would expect.
And if we end up rushing to judgment without hard, effective evidence, then we can find ourselves in a position where we can’t mobilize the international community to support what we do. There may be objections even among some people in the region who are sympathetic with the opposition if we take action. So it’s important for us to do this in a prudent way.
And what I’ve said to my team is we’ve got to do everything we can to investigate and establish with some certainty what exactly has happened in Syria, what is happening in Syria. We will use all the assets and resources that we have at our disposal. We’ll work with the neighboring countries to see whether we can establish a clear baseline of facts. And we’ve also called on the United Nations to investigate.
But the important point I want to make here is that we already are deeply engaged in trying to bring about a solution in Syria. It is a difficult problem. But even if chemical weapons were not being used in Syria, we’d still be thinking about tens of thousands of people, innocent civilians — women, children — who’ve been killed by a regime that’s more concerned about staying in power than it is about the well-being of its people.
And so we are already deeply invested in trying to find a solution here.
What is true, though, is, is that if I can establish in a way that not only the United States but also the international community feel confident is the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime, then that is a game-changer because what that portends is potentially even more devastating attacks on civilians, and it raises the strong possibility that those chemical weapons can fall into the wrong hands and get disseminated in ways that would threaten U.S. security or the security of our allies.
By game-changer you mean U.S. military action?
President Barack Obama:
By game-changer I mean that we would have to rethink the range of options that are available to us.
Now, we’re already, as I’ve said, invested in trying to bring about a solution inside of Syria. Obviously, there are options that are available to me that are on the shelf right now that we have not deployed. And that’s a spectrum of options. As early as last year, I asked the Pentagon, our military, our intelligence officials to prepare for me what options might be available. And I won’t go into the details of what those options might be, but clearly that would be an escalation, in our view, of the threat to the security of the international community, our allies, and the United States, and that means that there are some options that we might not otherwise exercise that we would strongly consider.
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