Obama Faces A Skeptical Audience As He Returns From G-20

Sep 6, 2013
Originally published on September 10, 2013 4:20 pm
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. The leaders of Britain, France, Turkey, Japan and half a dozen other countries joined the United States today to send a message: The Syrian government must be punished for using chemical weapons.

The move comes at the end of a G-20 Summit meeting in Russia. President Obama used the meeting to rally international support for a strike on Syria. This evening, the president takes his message back to Washington, where Congress is set to vote next week on whether to authorize military action. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: President Obama spent much of the G-20 Summit talking about Syria. At a working dinner last night and in private sessions with other world leaders, he made the case that Syria's government is responsible for a chemical weapons attack that the White House says killed more than 1,400 people.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: And what I've been emphasizing, and will continue to stress, is that the Assad regime's brazen use of chemical weapons isn't just a Syrian tragedy; it's a threat to global peace and security.

HORSLEY: Obama says a majority of G-20 members agree the Syrian government carried out the attack. Their major disagreement is what to do about it. Some countries insist only the United Nations can authorize a military strike. Obama says he respects that point of view and that if the Security Council were not - in his words - paralyzed he, too, would prefer to work through the U.N.

OBAMA: There are going to be times, though, whereas is true here, the international community is stuck for a whole variety of political reasons. And if that's the case, people are going to look to the United States and say, what are you going to do about it?

HORSLEY: Obama says he's prepared to take military action without the U.N.'s blessing; and 10 other countries backed that decision, saying in a joint statement: The world cannot wait for endless failed processes. Such an end run around the U.N. angers Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose veto can singlehandedly block Security Council action.

Although Obama and Putin were not scheduled to meet privately during the summit, they wound up sitting down together for a frank talk on Syria. Speaking through an interpreter, Putin called the meeting constructive, though neither man gave any ground.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Through translator) We stick to our guns. Everybody remained with his position.

HORSLEY: Having won over some - but not other - members of the G-20, Obama is headed back to Washington, where he faces the equally tough job of persuading Congress to back a military strike. Many lawmakers say their constituents are overwhelmingly against U.S. intervention in Syria. The president says that's no surprise.

OBAMA: For the American people, who have been through over a decade of war now, with enormous sacrifice in blood and treasure, any hint of further military entanglements in the Middle East are going to be viewed with suspicion.

HORSLEY: The president says he understands it's his job to make the case for military action. He's planning to address the American people about Syria on Tuesday night.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, St. Petersburg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.