Obama says Syria chemical weapons top priority
Country remains in midst of civil war
President Barack Obama believes Syria would be better off without its president, Bashar al-Assad, but said on Tuesday that removing his chemical weapons is the top priority and he remains focused on a diplomatic solution.
In an interview with Telemundo, Obama also said U.N. investigators have now "unequivocally said that chemical weapons were used" in Syria in August and "when you look at the details of the evidence they present, it is inconceivable that anybody other than the regime used it."
Obama believes the U.N. conclusions released in a report this week "changes international opinion on this issue" and pointed to developments with allies on a resolution to turn over Syrian stockpiles to international control.
"We're in negotiations with the Russians as we speak up in the United Nations. My goal consistently here has been to make sure that we get those chemical weapons out so that nobody can use them," he said.
Obama said, however, that Syria is still in the midst of a civil war regardless of developments on chemical weapons.
There's an underlying challenge that we've got to deal with, which is that there's a civil war going on inside of Syria and we've got a murderous dictator who so far at least has resisted efforts at a political settlement," Obama said.
"So this will only be the first step, even if we get an agreement on chemical weapons. We still have a destabilizing situation there and we're going have to take action diplomatically to try to resolve it. But I always preserve as commander in chief the possibility that if in fact U.S. interests are directly impacted we may end up having to do something," he added.
Obama has left the threat of force on the table even though Congress and the American public have so far indicated they do not support such action.
The White House has said the Syrian leader must be held accountable in part to send a message to states like Iran, if efforts to halt that country's nuclear program are to succeed.
"I think it's clear that Iran is under a whole host of international sanctions precisely because the entire international community believes that we can't see a nuclear arms race triggered in the most volatile part of the world. And there is an opportunity here for diplomacy," he said.
"I hope the Iranians take advantage of it. There are indications that (Hassan) Rouhani, the new president is somebody who is looking to open dialogue with the West and with the United States in a way that we haven't seen in the past. And so we should test it," Obama added.
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