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Action against Syria to be limited, tailored: US

Updated August 31, 2013
US Secretary of State John Kerry. — File Photo
US Secretary of State John Kerry. — File Photo

WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama assured his nation on Friday that he was not leading them to yet another open-ended war in Syria as the Bush administration did in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“We’re not considering any open ended commitment. We’re not considering any boots on the ground approach,” said Mr Obama while welcoming leaders from the Baltic region to the White House.

The US president said he was only considering a “limited, narrow act”, and emphasised that he had “not made any decisions” yet about what actions to take.

“We have consulted with allies. We have consulted with Congress,” he said.

Minutes before the president, US Secretary of State John Kerry read out a policy statement, promising the Americans that any action in Syria would be “limited and tailored”.

The top US diplomat said the Obama administration had been “more than mindful of the Iraq experience … we will not repeat that moment.”

Earlier in the day, NBC News released a poll showing that 79 per cent Americans wanted President Obama to seek congressional approval before taking any military action in Syria.As Americans prepared for a three-day weekend; the Obama administration appeared increasingly isolated on the Syrian issue.

On Thursday, the British parliament rejected a motion to authorise the use of force in Syria by 285 to 272 votes. And on Friday, the German government said it was not considering joining any military action.

But France, which had refused to back the US military operation in Iraq, has emerged as the staunchest American ally on the Syrian issue. French President Francois Hollande said that a military strike on Syria could come by Wednesday and made it clear that Britain’s surprise rejection would not affect his government’s stand.

Mr Hollande told Le Monde newspaper,

The chemical massacre of Damascus cannot and must not remain unpunished.

Although disappointed by the British vote, Secretary Kerry echoed similar sentiments, saying that the United States would make its own decision on a possible strike.

“President Obama will ensure that the United States of America makes our own decisions on our own timelines based on our values and our interests,” he said.

As Mr Kerry was speaking, the White House released four pages of unclassified evidence, including a map, which they said proved beyond any doubt that forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad were responsible for a chemical attack on Aug 21 outside Damascus.

Secretary Kerry claimed that at least 1,429 civilians, including 426 children, were killed in the attack.

These “findings are as clear as they are compelling. ... Read for yourselves the verdict reached by our intelligence community about the chemical weapons attack”, he said.

Secretary Kerry also criticised the Syrian president in the harshest possible terms, calling him “a thug and a murderer”.

“If we choose to live in a world where a thug and a murderer like Bashar Al Assad can gas thousands of his own people with impunity, even after the United States and our allies said no, and then the world does nothing about it, there will be no end to the test of our resolve and the dangers that will flow from those others who believe that they can do as they will,” he said.

The consequences of the failure to respond to the Syrian crisis, he warned, would go beyond Syria’s borders. He said,

It is about whether Iran, which itself has been a victim of chemical weapons attacks, will now feel emboldened, in the absence of action, to obtain nuclear weapons.

“It is about Hezbollah, and North Korea, and every other terrorist group or dictator that might ever again contemplate the use of weapons of mass destruction.”“Will they remember that the Assad regime was stopped from those weapons’ current or future use, or will they remember that the world stood aside and created impunity?”

Mr Kerry acknowledged that the American public was weary of war, saying that he, too, was tired after the years of military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. But “fatigue does not absolve us of our responsibility. Just longing for peace does not necessarily bring it about”.

The NBC poll showed that overall, 50 per cent of Americans oppose any military action against Syria, while 42 per cent support it. Fifty per cent, however, supported launching cruise missiles and 44 per cent opposed it.

Apparently, this caused Secretary Kerry to warn that the Americans could not ignore the moral responsibility to respond to the use of chemical weapons.

“History would judge us all extraordinarily harshly if we turned a blind eye to a dictator’s wanton use of weapons of mass destruction against all warnings, against all common understanding of decency,” he said.