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September 10, 2013

Obama blends threat of attack, hope of diplomacy

WASHINGTON (AP) — In the run-up to a prime-time televised speech, President Barack Obama blended the threat of a military strike with the hope of a diplomatic solution Tuesday as he worked to rid Syria of an illicit stockpile of fearsome chemical weapons.

The administration and members of Congress, all skeptical of Syria's intentions, also looked to the United Nations as the Security Council arranged closed-door consultations on steps against the government of President Bashar Assad in Damascus.

While Obama made his case in person on Capitol Hill, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told a congressional hearing there was still a clear need to support the president's call for legislation authorizing a military strike.

"For this diplomatic option to have a chance at succeeding, the threat of a U.S. military action, the credible, real threat of U.S. military action, must continue," Hagel said.

At the same hearing, Secretary of State John Kerry said any diplomacy "cannot be a process of delay. This cannot be a process of avoidance."

He later added that any agreement must include binding consequences if Syria fails to comply, and lawmakers moved quickly to rewrite pending legislation along the same lines.

Obama himself "wasn't overly optimistic about" prospects for a solution at the U.N., said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the second-ranking Democrat, after his party's rank and file met privately for lunch in the Capitol with the president. He quoted Obama as saying that even if a credible plan could be worked out, it could be difficult to push through the U.N. Security Council.

The president readied his nationwide speech against a unpredictable chain of events stemming from a chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs on Aug. 21 that the Obama administration swiftly blamed on Assad's government.

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