WASHINGTON (AFP) – President Barack Obama said Tuesday that a UN report detailing a chemical weapons attack in Syria had reshaped international opinion on the actions of Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
Obama said the UN report released Monday, which did not directly attribute blame, nevertheless proved everything his administration had been saying about a August 21 attack which Washington says killed 1,400 people.
He said some U.S. allies had waited to commit to firm action against Assad for the report by United Nations inspectors who collected samples and evidence from the Damascus suburb where the attack took place.
“Well, the UN process has now played itself out, the investigators have unequivocally said that chemical weapons were used,” Obama told the Spanish language Telemundo network.
“When you look at the details of the evidence they present — it is inconceivable that anybody other than the regime used it. What that does I think is change the international dynamic. I think it changes international opinion on this issue,” Obama said.
Prior to an 11th hour deal with Russia reached at the weekend, Obama had been prepared to launch U.S. military action against Assad’s regime to punish him for the attack.
But he found himself lacking a UN mandate, isolated from America’s closest friend Britain, and bucking domestic public opinion. Only France was ready to take military action at the time and Congress seemed set to deny the American president’s request for authorization to use military force.
Obama also said in the interview that though the United States was locked into a process with Russia, and indirectly, the Syrian government, to dispose of the country’s chemical weapons, he had not changed his view that Assad must be pushed from power.
“My goal consistently here has been to make sure that we get those chemical weapons out so that nobody can use them,” Obama said. “The first step right now is to make sure we can deal with the chemical weapons issue. The next step is to engage all the parties, not just Syria itself, but those countries that have been supporting Syria, like Russia, to say ‘We need to bring an end to this.'”