WASHINGTON, Sept. 25, 2013 – While the world has made strides toward stability, the situation in Syria illustrates the dangers of current trends to the Middle East and the rest of the globe, President Barack Obama told world leaders at the United Nations today.
Obama spoke to the General Assembly meeting in New York this morning, giving a synopsis of the situation in Syria and how the United Nations must work to end the violence that has killed more than 100,000 people.
The Syrian civil war has escalated with the government using chemical weapons on its own people. “The international community recognized the stakes early on, but our response has not matched the scale of the challenge,” the president said. “Aid cannot keep pace with the suffering of the wounded and displaced. A peace process is stillborn.”
The crisis in Syria goes to the heart of broader challenges the international community must confront, Obama said. From North Africa to Central Asia, there is turmoil and getting these nations through this time peacefully is the challenge.
With respect to Syria, the international community “must enforce the ban on chemical weapons,” the president said.
“The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st,” Obama said. “U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood, and landed in opposition neighborhoods. It’s an insult to human reason — and to the legitimacy of this institution — to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.”
Obama initially considered launching a limited U.S. military strike against Syrian regime targets, but the United States now is testing a diplomatic solution.
“In the past several weeks, the United States, Russia and our allies have reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control, and then to destroy them,” Obama said.
The Syrian government has now begun accounting for its stockpiles.
“Now there must be a strong Security Council resolution to verify that the Assad regime is keeping its commitments, and there must be consequences if they fail to do so,” Obama said. “If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the United Nations is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws.
“On the other hand, if we succeed,” he continued, “it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century, and that this body means what it says.”
If diplomacy works, it could energize a larger diplomatic effort to reach a political settlement within Syria.
“I do not believe that military action — by those within Syria, or by external powers — can achieve a lasting peace,” Obama said. “Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria; that is for the Syrian people to decide. Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country. The notion that Syria can somehow return to a pre-war status quo is a fantasy.”
Obama stated that Russia and Iran must realize that insisting on Bashir al-Assad’s continued rule in Syria will lead directly to the outcome that they fear: an increasingly violent space for extremists to operate.
“In turn, those of us who continue to support the moderate opposition must persuade them that the Syrian people cannot afford a collapse of state institutions, and that a political settlement cannot be reached without addressing the legitimate fears and concerns of Alawites and other minorities,” he said.
The United States is committed to working the diplomatic track, the president said, and he urged all nations to help bring about a peaceful resolution of Syria’s civil war.
He asked U.N. members to step forward to help alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people. The United States has committed more than $1 billion to this effort, and he announced the United States will donate a further $340 million.
“No aid can take the place of a political resolution that gives the Syrian people the chance to rebuild their country, but it can help desperate people to survive,” he said.