U.S. President Barack Obama continued lobbying, mostly unsuccessfully, for air strikes against Syria at the just concluded Group of Twenty (G-20) Leaders’ Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.
He said before leaving the summit the “Assad regime’s brazen use of chemical weapons isn’t just a Syrian tragedy, it’s a threat to global peace and security.”
The atmosphere at the summit was tense between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin who supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The G-20 leaders of developed and developing economies account for 90 percent of the world economy and two-thirds of its population.
The leaders and representatives of Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States of America did however put out a joint statement on Syria on the margins of the St. Petersburg summit.
It condemns the use of chemical weapons and accuses the Syrian government of being responsible for the August 21 attack in the suburbs of Damascus and calls for a strong international response. The joint statement says:
The international norm against the use of chemical weapons is longstanding and universal. The use of chemical weapons anywhere diminishes the security of people everywhere. Left unchallenged, it increases the risk of further use and proliferation of these weapons.
We condemn in the strongest terms the horrific chemical weapons attack in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21st that claimed the lives of so many men, women, and children. The evidence clearly points to the Syrian government being responsible for the attack, which is part of a pattern of chemical weapons use by the regime.
We call for a strong international response to this grave violation of the world’s rules and conscience that will send a clear message that this kind of atrocity can never be repeated. Those who perpetrated these crimes must be held accountable.
Signatories have consistently supported a strong UN Security Council Resolution, given the Security Council's responsibilities to lead the international response, but recognize that the Council remains paralyzed as it has been for two-and-a-half-years. The world cannot wait for endless failed processes that can only lead to increased suffering in Syria and regional instability. We support efforts undertaken by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons.
We commit to supporting longer term international efforts, including through the United Nations, to address the enduring security challenge posed by Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles. Signatories have also called for the UN fact-finding mission to present its results as soon as possible, and for the Security Council to act accordingly.
We condemn in the strongest terms all human rights violations in Syria on all sides. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict, more than 2 million people have become refugees, and approximately 5 million are internally displaced. Recognizing that Syria’s conflict has no military solution, we reaffirm our commitment to seek a peaceful political settlement through full implementation of the 2012 Geneva Communiqué. We are committed to a political solution which will result in a united, inclusive and democratic Syria.
We have contributed generously to the latest UN and ICRC appeals for humanitarian assistance and will continue to provide support to address the growing humanitarian needs in Syria and their impact on regional countries. We welcome the contributions announced at the meeting of donor countries on the margins of the G-20. We call upon all parties to allow humanitarian actors safe and unhindered access to those in need.
European signatories will continue to engage in promoting a common European position.
Before leaving the summit Friday evening, President Obama held a news conference and took some questions.
He said he would continue “to consult with my fellow leaders around the world, and I will continue to consult with Congress. And I will make the best case that I can to the American people, as well as to the international community, for taking necessary and appropriate action.”
Obama added he will address the American people from the White House on Tuesday.
On his decision to put the plan for air strikes against Syria to Congress, the U.S. president said, “I put this before Congress for a reason. I think we will be more effective and stronger if, in fact, Congress authorizes this action.”
The following is a transcript of Obama’s opening remarks. You can read a full transcript, including the Q & A here.
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… Of course, even as we focused on our shared prosperity -- and although the primary task of the G-20 is to focus on our joint efforts to boost the global economy -- we did also discuss a grave threat to our shared security: And that’s the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons. 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.
Syria’s escalating use of chemical weapons threatens its neighbors, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel. It threatens to further destabilize the Middle East. It increases the risk that these weapons will fall into the hands of terrorist groups. But more broadly, it threatens to unravel the international norm against chemical weapons embraced by 189 nations, and those nations represent 98 percent of the world’s people.
Failing to respond to this breach of this international norm would send a signal to rogue nations, authoritarian regimes and terrorist organizations, that they can develop and use weapons of mass destruction and not pay a consequence. And that’s not the world that we want to live in. This is why nations around the world have condemned Syria for this attack, and called for action.
I've been encouraged by discussions with my fellow leaders this week. There is a growing recognition that the world cannot stand idly by. Here in St. Petersburg leaders from Europe, Asia and the Middle East have come together to say that the international norm of the use against chemical weapons must be upheld, and that the Assad regime used these weapons on its own people, and that, as a consequence, there needs to be a strong response.
The Arab League foreign ministers have said the Assad regime’s responsible and called for deterrent and necessary measures against the culprits of this crime. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation -- its general secretariat has called the attack a blatant affront to all religious and moral values and a deliberate disregard of international laws and norms, which requires a decisive action.
So, in the coming days I’ll continue to consult with my fellow leaders around the world, and I will continue to consult with Congress. And I will make the best case that I can to the American people, as well as to the international community, for taking necessary and appropriate action. And I intend to address the American people from the White House on Tuesday.
The kind of world we live in, and our ability to deter this kind of outrageous behavior, is going to depend on the decisions that we make in the days ahead.
And I’m confident that if we deliberate carefully and we choose wisely and embrace our responsibilities, we can meet the challenges of this moment as well as those in the days ahead.