August 30th, 2013
04:24 PM ET
12 months ago

Transcript: Obama's remarks on Syria

Washington (CNN) - Declaring himself "war-weary" but determined to hold Syria accountable for using banned chemical weapons, President Barack Obama said Friday he was considering a limited response to what U.S. intelligence assessed with "high confidence" as a Syrian attack that killed more than 1,400 people.

A full transcript of this Cabinet Room remarks follows. Omitted from the transcript are remarks by the presidents of Estonia, Luthuania and Latvia, with whom the president was meeting.

OBAMA: Well, obviously, I'm - I'm very grateful to have my fellow presidents here, as well as the vice president. Before I begin, I want to say a few words about the situation in
Syria. As you've seen, today we've released our unclassified assessment detailing with high confidence that the Syrian regime carried out a chemical weapons attack that killed well over 1,000 people, including hundreds of children. This follows the horrific images that shocked us all.

This kind of attack is a challenge to the world. We cannot accept a world where women and children and innocent civilians are gassed on a terrible scale. This kind of attack threatens our national security interests by violating well established international norms against the use of chemical weapons by further threatening friends and allies of ours in the region, like Israel and Turkey, and Jordan and it increases the risk that chemical weapons will be used in the future and fall into the hands of terrorists who might use them against us. So, I have said before, and I meant what I said that, the world has an obligation to make sure that we maintain the norm against the use of chemical weapons.

Now, I have not made a final decision about various actions that might be taken to help enforce that norm. But as I've already said, I have had my military and our team look at a wide range of options. We have consulted with allies. We've consulted with Congress. We've been in conversations with all the interested parties, and in no event are we considering any kind of military action that would involve boots on the ground, that would involve a long-term campaign. But we are looking at the possibility of a limited, narrow act that would help make sure that not only Syria, but others around the world, understand that the international community cares about maintaining this chemical weapons ban and norm.


Obama met with his national security team Friday in the White House Situation Room. White House Photo.

Again, I repeat, we're not considering any open-ended commitment. We're not considering any boots on the ground approach. What we will do is consider options that meet the narrow concern around chemical weapons, understanding that there's not going to be a solely military solution to the underlying conflict and tragedy that's taking place in Syria. And I will continue to consult closely with Congress. In addition to the release of the unclassified document, we are providing a classified briefing to congressional staff today. And we'll offer that same classified briefing to members of Congress as well as our international partners. And I will continue to provide updates to the American people as we get more information. With that, I want to welcome, President Ilves, President Grybauskaite, and President Berzins to the White House. These countries that they represent all share very deep ties to the United States, both as allies and, because of extraordinary people, the people relations that we have with these countries.

I want to thank all the presidents who are here and their nations for all that they do to promote democracy, not only in their own countries, but around the world. And the Baltics are among ourmost reliable allies in NATO. And our commitment to their security is rock-solid. Our soldiers sacrifice together in Afghanistan, and the Baltic ports continue to help support our troops as we transition the NATO mission. Today we're gonna spend some time talking about our shared commitments to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations, which will add jobs in the Baltics and the United States. We're working on development assistance projects, including
building institutions and strengthening civil society in the emerging democracies of Eastern Europe and Central Asia. We will, obviously, have discussions about our NATO relationships and the security concerns that we share together. So, again, I've had occasions to meet with all three presidents in a wide variety of settings and a wide variety of summits. They have been outstanding friends of the United States of America. We are very proud of them. And I want to thank each of them for their leadership. We know how far Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have come in just the past few decades, and I know that we'll accomplish even more in the decades to come.

[Remarks by the presidents of Estonia, Luthuania and Latvia are omitted]

QUESTION: Syria and as long as you focus (inaudible) either the United States or Congress, particularly (inaudible) opportunity.

OBAMA: We are still in the planning processes. And, obviously, consultations with Congress, as well as the international community are very important. And, you know, my preference, obviously, would have been that the international community already acted forcefully. But what we have seen, so far at least, is a incapacity at this point for the Security Council to more forward in the face of a clear violation of international norms. And, you know, I recognize that all of us here in the United States, in Great Britain and many parts of the world, there's a certain weariness given Afghanistan. There's a certain suspicion of any military action post-Iraq. And I very much appreciate that.

On the other hand, it's important for us to recognize that when over 1,000 people are killed, including hundreds of innocent children, through the use of a weapon that 98 percent or 99 percent of humanity says should not be used, even in war, and there is no action, then we're sending a signal that that international norm doesn't mean much, and that is a danger to our national security. And obviously if and when we make a decisions to respond, there are a whole host of considerations that I have to take into account too in terms of how effective it is, and given the kinds of options that we're looking at, that would be very limited, and would not involve a long-term commitment or a major operation, you know, we are confident that we can provide Congress all the information they can get, all the input that they need. And we're very mindful of that. And we can have serious conversations with our allies and our friends around the world about this.

But ultimately we don't want the world to be paralyzed. And, frankly, you know, part of the challenge that we end up with here is that a lot of people think something should be done, but nobody wants to do it. And that's not an unusual situation, and that's part of what allows, over time, the erosion of these kinds of international prohibitions unless somebody says, "No. When the world says we're not gonna use chemical weapons, we mean it."

And it would be tempting to leave it to others to do it. And I've - I think I've shown consistently and said consistently my strong preference for multilateral action whenever possible. But it is not in the national security interest of the United States to ignore clear violations of these kinds of international norms, and the reason is because there are a whole host of international norms that are very important to us. You know, we have currently rules in place dealing with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. We have international norms that have been violated by certain countries and the United Nations has put sanctions in place, but if there's a sense that, over time, nobody's willing actually to enforce them, then people don't take them seriously.

So, you know, I am very clear that the world generally is war weary, certainly the United States, is has gone through over a decade of war. The American people understandably want us to be focused on the business of rebuilding our economy here and putting people back to work, and I assure you nobody ends up being more war weary than me. But what I also believe is that part of our obligation as a leader in the world is making sure that when you have a regime that is willing to use weapons that are prohibited by international norms on their own people - including children - that they're held to account.


Filed under: President Obama • Syria • White House
soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. Wake up People!

    Nothing like a healthy dose of red meat to start the weekend off right.....

    Nmmm Nmmm Nmmm!! Enjoy!

    August 30, 2013 04:38 pm at 4:38 pm |
  2. john2397

    What will happen if the war will include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE? The gas price will touch to the sky, economy will collapse and the global meltdown will be real. Obama-Kerry has brain to understand this simple outcome, and Iran will sure carry out this task, just to change the direction of the war.

    August 30, 2013 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  3. CanBothBeRight

    So, can Obama be allowed to attack when he was so against Bush's approach when he ordered the attack in Iraq?

    Shoes are on the other foot now.

    Will our VP ask Congress to impeach Obama if he attacks Syria, as he threatened to do to President Bush?

    August 30, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  4. CanBothBeRight

    It's the economy stupid!

    August 30, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  5. Marie MD

    I personally don't want another war but I trust our Preident and his administration to do the right thing unlike the shrub #43 and his still missing WMDs.
    I just wish that saudi Arabia and other super rich Arab countries wouldn't be a bunch of yellow bellied cowards who only stand on the sidelines and never get their hands dirty unless it's with oil. We need to find other energy resources to stop ths craziness in the middle east once and for all.
    Look at Cuba. Ninety miles from our shores and a horrible dictator has been allowed to rule for decades. If Cuba had oil instead of sugar it woud have been freed in the 60s. Kennedy sold souls to kruschev.

    August 30, 2013 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  6. CanBothBeRight

    High gas prices,not because of holiday weekend. Expect much much higher starting next week.possibly $10/ gal in U.S.

    August 30, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  7. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    And, frankly, you know, part of the challenge that we end up with here is that a lot of people think something should be done, but nobody wants to do it
    -------------------------------------------------
    I understand and actually agree with the President's reasons for some type of action.
    I do.
    I'm just one of those punks in the world that wishes that someone else put their foot down in regards to Syria's violations of international law, not us.

    August 30, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  8. Thomas

    Where will all the displaced refugees go , Oklahoma ?

    August 30, 2013 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  9. don in albuquerque

    Enjoy the next world war.

    August 30, 2013 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  10. CanBothBeRight

    How many unemployed people will be hired if we attack?

    Will this grow our economy?

    Will this lower the cost of living?

    Will this lower the rising tides from the melting ice caps?

    Will this lower the cost of health care?

    Will this put more teaches, firemen, policemen, union works back to work. And fix failing bankrupt cities and help them recover?

    Will this guarantee Hillary the WH in 2016, does she want this mess created by BHO?

    August 30, 2013 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  11. Joan

    Even though President Obama may not have the backing of some other countries that he had hoped for, he has put the spotlight dead centre on Assad and all of his future acts of war in Syria. Assad will not be able to twitch his nose now without world wide scrutiny. For sure he cannot use any chemical weapons because that would show he was lying. Apparently some of his bases have been evacuated or at least communication has lessened. His every act will be scrutinized like never before. Perhaps this was part of the plan. It is hard for people to really swallow the American outrage at killing of innocent citizens when they have led two wars that killed and wounded hundreds of thousands of people and still are. Since none of the pilots who flew planes on 911 were from either Afghanistan or Iraq ( most were Saudis) those wars were questionable. It is quite hypocritical. It might be best if America gets totally out of the middle east and let them fight their own wars that have been going on for centuries.

    August 30, 2013 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  12. CanBothBeRight

    Will Obama blame George Bush for Syria?

    Arab spring,it's about to rain on them- big time.

    Do it big, do it right, do it once in for all or don't do anything at all.

    August 30, 2013 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  13. Rick McDaniel

    I see Al-Qaeda suckering us back into a major war in the middle east. That is a huge, huge mistake.

    August 30, 2013 05:05 pm at 5:05 pm |
  14. Rick McDaniel

    Send them atropine and gas masks. That's all we need do.........that's all we give our own men.

    August 30, 2013 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  15. CanBothBeRight

    The next apology tour, brought to you by the makers of war – Democrats.

    Hillary will have to apologize to the middle east for Obama and Bush.

    2016 Can't wait for the fun to begin.

    August 30, 2013 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  16. Sniffit

    "So, can Obama be allowed to attack when he was so against Bush's approach when he ordered the attack in Iraq?

    Shoes are on the other foot now."

    Except they're not. That analogy is grossly inaccurate. This isn't a wild goose hunt for imaginary WMDs, it's a response to proven, actual, escalating use of them against innocent civilians.

    August 30, 2013 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  17. Marie MD

    @canbothberight, high gas prices before the holiday weekend because people will travel and they need gasoline for their cars. Plain and simple.

    August 30, 2013 05:11 pm at 5:11 pm |
  18. kumar

    LEADERS TAKE FAST DECISION..... IF YOU CAN'T TAKE A DECISION YOU ARE NOT A LEADER. EVEN IF A LEADER OF A POOR NATION ACTED FAST (not just warning forever) AGAINST AZAD REGIME, THAN HE IS THE LEADER. Do not post-pond action as hundred's of people dying everyday. IS THERE ANY WORLD LEADER (Poor or Rich) SHOW THE COURAGE ? LET US SHOW THAT WE LIVE IN A CIVILIZED WORLD AND ATTROCITIES AGAINST HUMANITY IS NOT TOLERATED. Punish Azad's military generals equally as they are the people acting behind for power and money.

    August 30, 2013 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  19. Runningman55

    So by lobbing a couple of hundred cruise missiles into Syria and then bombing it back to the middle ages and killing tens of thousands and making millions of enemies this is a good thing?

    August 30, 2013 05:13 pm at 5:13 pm |
  20. Obama Mama Against the War with Syria

    I can't believe I'm saying this but Sniffit is a war monger....

    August 30, 2013 05:19 pm at 5:19 pm |
  21. Gurgyl

    @Rick mcDaniel, whose fault? You destabilize middle-East, you get oil from Saudi rather than being independent and energy efficient, out of GREED to rob from people thru Gas stations, not creating public transportation–all GOP thugs fault. No vision for this nation.

    August 30, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  22. anotherGDlefty

    Well said sir.
    I can hardly wait to hear the FOXPAC pundit patriots rip it to shreds while calling for war and not going to war simultaneously....

    August 30, 2013 05:28 pm at 5:28 pm |
  23. not so fast

    Sniffit
    --
    "So, can Obama be allowed to attack when he was so against Bush's approach when he ordered the attack in Iraq?
    --
    Shoes are on the other foot now."
    --
    Except they're not. That analogy is grossly inaccurate. This isn't a wild goose hunt for imaginary WMDs, it's a response to proven, actual, escalating use of them against innocent civilians.
    --

    There was similar evidence that Saddam Hussein had gassed thousands of Kurd civilians. So now you support the war in Iraq and the over throw of Saddam right? Or let me guess! You're going to respond with your usual false equivolency nonsense again. You are all too predictable... and hypocritical. Your spinning so fast the entire Ticker is starting to spin!

    August 30, 2013 05:34 pm at 5:34 pm |
  24. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    kumar

    LEADERS TAKE FAST DECISION.....
    -------------------------------------------------
    Like Bush you mean?
    No Kumar. Leaders deliberate, obtain as much intel as possible, weigh pros and cons and then make a decision that will impact not only the millions in their own country but the global community.

    STUPID leaders make fast decisions.
    If there is time to deliberate and assess, the intelligent leader deliberates and assess, just like our President did.

    August 30, 2013 05:38 pm at 5:38 pm |
  25. anonymous

    It is nice to know that all of Obama's supporters would even blindly follow him and support him in a war or attacks against Syria, even when there are NO compelling US national interests in doing so. As a matter of fact, it is in our compelling national interests to NOT ACT right now, or ever, with regards to Syria. We have absolutely NOTHING to gain and huge amounts to lose in almost every respect. Foreign policy driven by shooting your mouth off or in pursuit of some high and mighty moral agenda is a losing cause especially in this situation.

    I tend to lean towards military actions at times but this situation screams out as not being one of those cases. I fear Obama will waste our military men, women and resources on a useless act of saving face. No good will come of it and it will leave this country looking even weaker than it already does. If Obama is half as smart as he thinks he is, he will see this. I fear though that his ego will not allow it and he will attempt to act stupidly to regain face.

    August 30, 2013 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
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