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Obama says he didn't set the red line on Syria, the world did

Published September 4, 2013 8:47 pm

Chemical weapons • He says credibility of Congress, America and global communityis on the line.
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St. Petersburg, Russia • President Barack Obama said Wednesday that he didn't set the "red line" against Syria for the use of chemical weapons.

Speaking at a press conference in Stockholm ahead of an economic summit in Russia, where he will seek support for a U.S. military strike against Syria, Obama said the "red line" he talked about a year ago against Syria's use of chemical weapons wasn't his but an international standard.

"I didn't set a red line, the world set a red line," Obama said. "My credibility is not on the line. The international community's credibility is on the line. And America and Congress' credibility is on the line because we give lip service to the notion that these international norms are important."

At an August 2012 White House press conference, Obama warned that "We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation."

Obama is seeking approval from Congress to launch airstrikes against the Syrian government for a chemical attack that did cross the so-called red line. A major argument for granting the authorization is that Obama and the United States would look weak if they did not act.

Obama said Wednesday that he didn't pluck the idea of a red line "out of thin air," but was referring to a global treaty banning the use of chemical weapons, "which the overwhelming consensus of humanity says is wrong."

Yet the difficulty Obama faces in achieving a global consensus was illustrated at the press conference with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who decried the use of chemical weapons and said he understood Obama's predicament but said Sweden wants United Nations involvement and a political resolution to the carnage in Syria.

"I understand the problem of not having a reaction to abuse of chemical weapons and what kind of signal that sends to the world," Reinfeldt said. "But this small country will always say, 'Let's put our hope into the United Nations, let us push on some more to get a better situation.'"

Obama, who was asked how he could square his Nobel Peace Prize with a military attack, staunchly defended his push for a strike, evoking the exposure of children to chemical weapons. The Nobel Foundation is based in Stockholm.

"The moral thing to do is not to stand by and do nothing," Obama said. He later added, "I do have to ask people if in fact you're outraged by the slaughter of innocent people, what are you doing about it?"

Obama said he expects Congress to give him the authorization he seeks to launch a military strike. But he left the door open to acting unilaterally: "As commander in chief, I always preserve the right and the responsibility to act on behalf of America's national security."

He added that he doesn't believe he was required to ask Congress, but said, "I did not take this to Congress just because it's an empty exercise. I think it's important to have Congress' support on it."

The press conference came hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the U.S. against military strikes in Syria, saying that without the sanction of the United Nations any assault would be "inadmissible and can only be interpreted as an aggression." —

Vatican ramps up opposition to

Syria strikes

Vatican City • The Vatican is ramping up its opposition to threatened military strikes against Syria.

Pope Francis on Wednesday urged Catholics and non-Catholics alike to participate in his planned day of fasting and prayer for peace Saturday, urging more than 50,000 people gathered for his weekly general audience: "Let the cry for peace rise up across the Earth!" The Vatican has invited ambassadors accredited to the Holy See to attend a briefing Thursday on the pope's agenda for the four-hour vigil Saturday night, and bishops' conferences from around the world have announced plans to host local versions of the vigil as well. In recent speeches, tweets and remarks, Francis has called for a negotiated settlement in Syria but has also condemned the use of chemical weapons.

The Associated Press