Monday 20 November 2017

World's credibility on line over Syria, warns Obama

Peter Foster

Barack Obama warned last night that the credibility of the international community was on the line over the Syria crisis as he said the world had to stop paying "lip service" to its obligations on chemical weapons.

Setting out the rationale for military action, Mr Obama said it was not him but the world that had drawn a "red line" against chemical weapons use.

He challenged the international community to "confront actions that are violating our common humanity" and refuted claims that plans for limited military strikes were a face-saving gesture.

"My credibility isn't on the line, the international community's credibility is on the line," he said on a visit to Sweden.

"And America and Congress's credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important."

Despite his personal conviction that the Assad regime must be confronted, Mr Obama is facing a struggle to convince US legislators to back punitive military strikes against Syria.

He also faces a sceptical US public, with the latest polls showing 60pc against military action.

Mr Obama spoke as key members of his administration, including John Kerry, the secretary of state, and Chuck Hagel the secretary of defence, went to Capitol Hill for a second day of hearings at which they attempted to persuade war-weary politicians of the case for intervention.

While some members of Congress urged the administration to stay out of Syria's civil war, John McCain, the hawkish Republican senator, argued for deeper involvement.

MOMENTUM

He succeeded in hardening the Senate resolution to commit the US to changing "the momentum of the battlefield in Syria" in favour of the rebels and against regime forces.

Meanwhile, this morning's G20 summit hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg is expected to crackle with diplomatic tensions, as the Syria issue is expected to dominate discussions.

A once-planned separate summit between the two men was cancelled by Washington weeks ago.

Mr Putin warned that Russia would consider any strikes ordered without United Nations backing as an act of "aggression".

Nor, he said, would Moscow necessarily stand by if that were to happen.

He said: "We have our ideas about what we will do and how we will do it in case the situation develops toward the use of force."

But Mr Putin may have dropped the temperature slightly, saying in an interview that Russia would not rule out supporting a UN resolution for action on Syria if evidence were presented proving the use of gas by Bashar al-Assad's regime.

At the same time, he noted that he remains unconvinced by US intelligence.

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