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Obama Tries To Build International Support For Syria Strike


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. President Obama said today he believes Congress will authorize a military strike on Syria in response to that country's use of deadly chemical weapons. The administration is pushing to win over lawmakers in advance of a vote next week and the president is trying to build international support for military action.

He's attending the G20 Summit in Russia starting tomorrow. On his way, the president stopped off in Sweden. Here's NPR's Scott Horsley.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama met with Sweden's prime minister and the two men issued a joint statement condemning any and all use of chemical weapons. Obama added it's not just his red line that Syria's now crossed, but the world's red line. He challenged the international community to back that up.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: 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.

HORSLEY: Obama acknowledged there's still skepticism, especially in Europe, about calls to punish Syria. That's fueled, in part, by memories of the Iraq war. The U.S. justified its invasion of Iraq a decade ago by claiming, incorrectly, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

OBAMA: Keep in mind I'm somebody who opposed the war in Iraq and I'm not interested in repeating mistakes of us basing decisions on faulty intelligence.

HORSLEY: Obama notes that in Syria, no one is seriously questioning the fact that chemical weapons were used and he insists there's solid evidence the Syrian government was responsible.

OBAMA: And so the question is after we've gone through all this, are we gonna try to find a reason not to act? And if that's the case, then I think the world community should admit it.

HORSLEY: The president has been frustrated by the United Nations' failure to authorize a strike against Syria, but he says he's comfortable using military force even without a UN mandate. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt stopped short of explicitly endorsing a U.S. military strike today, but he agreed with Obama that those behind the chemical weapons attack should be held accountable.

PRIME MINISTER FREDRIK REINFELDT: Sweden believes that serious matters concerning international peace and security should be handled by the United Nations. But I also understand the potential consequences of letting a violation like this go unanswered.

HORSLEY: Obama will continue to make the case for military action tomorrow when he attends a G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia. Meanwhile, back home, lawmakers have begun holding hearings on a possible strike and considering authorization language that's narrower than the White House initially asked for.

Obama says he's amenable to the changes so long as the U.S. can still send what he calls a clear message to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and do lasting damage to Assad's ability to use chemical weapons in the future. Pressed by a reporter on what he would do if Congress doesn't authorize a military strike, Obama said his choice to seek permission was not merely a symbolic gesture.

OBAMA: As commander in chief, I always preserve the right and the responsibility to act on behalf of America's national security, I do not believe that I was required to take this to Congress, but 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.

HORSLEY: While in Stockholm, Obama marked the beginning of Rosh Hashanah by visiting a synagogue where he paid tribute to Raoul Wallenberg. The Swedish diplomat is credited with saving tens of thousands of Jews during World War II while working in Nazi-occupied Hungary. Obama met with the diplomat's relatives as well as some of the families of those he helped save and said afterwards, Wallenberg's life is a challenge to us all.

OBAMA: Because he refused to stand by, Wallenberg reminds us of our power when we choose not simply to bear witness, but also to act.

HORSLEY: Earlier, the president offered a counter example, saying the people of Europe are certainly familiar with what happens when the international community finds excuses not to act. Scott Horsley, NPR News, St. Petersburg, Russia. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.