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Obama: Need All Facts on Syria Chemical Weapons

April 30, 2013

by VOA News

U.S. President Barack Obama says he needs more facts on chemical weapons use in Syria before ordering an American response.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama said the United States has evidence chemical weapons were used in Syria, but does not know who used them or how they were used. He said until that "chain of custody" is established, the U.S. would not rush to judgment.

Last week, the White House told lawmakers it believes "with varying degrees of confidence" that the government of President Bashar al-Assad has used a small quantity of sarin gas, a chemical weapon, in Syria’s civil war.

When asked Tuesday whether he thought the "game changing" use of chemical weapons would lead to U.S. military action, Obama would only say the United States would rethink the wide range of options that could be taken in Syria.

The president said the Syrian government cannot let the chemical weapon "genie out of the bottle." He said that would kill massive amounts of people and raise the possibility that those weapons could get in the wrong hands, threatening the security of the United States, its allies, and the international community.

U.S. and U.N. leaders are seeking more direct evidence to corroborate reports the Assad regime used chemical weapons against its population, with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon urging the Syrian government to allow an investigation to proceed without delay and without conditions.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Jaafari dismissed allegations the government has used chemical weapons as part of a hostile campaign by the British, French and Qatari governments.

"If they had any proof, any evidence, any tools - credible - they should share it with the secretary-general. They should share it with us. They should share it with the remaining, the other, members of the security council. This has not happened," he said.

Jaafari accused the United Nations of failing to investigate the Syrian government's concerns rebel forces unleashed chemical weapons in the village of Khan al-Assal, near Aleppo, this past March.

He also said there are indications rebels recently staged an attack likely using chemical weapons, in a powder form, near Idlib, in an attempt to frame the Syrian government.

Boston bombing

President Barack Obama says Russia has been "very cooperative" with American authorities since the Boston Marathon bombings, allegedly carried out by two ethnically Chechen brothers.

Obama said Russia's President Vladimir Putin is committed to making sure Russian officials cooperate not only with the Boston investigation, but also with other counter-terrorism issues.

President Obama said suspicions remain between U.S. and Russian security agencies dating back to the Cold War. But he said relations are improving.

On Monday, Obama and Putin spoke by phone about cooperation on security issues, including the 2014 Winter Olympics, which will be held in the Russian city of Sochi. Russian officials said the leaders agreed to increase contacts between their intelligence agencies.

On Americans' response to the bombings, president Obama said one of the things he has been most proud to see is a sense of "resilience and toughness."

He said Americans are not going to be intimidated and will continue to live their lives, while doing everything possible to prevent future attacks.

Budget woes

President Obama says the government spending cuts that took effect in March are hurting the American economy.

"It's slowed our growth," he said. "It's thrown people out of work."

The spending cuts came as Obama, a Democrat at the start of his second term, and Republican opponents in Congress were unable to reach an agreement on a new spending and taxation plan that would have averted automatic cuts that are trimming a variety of government programs and forcing furloughs of some civil servants. About 1,500 air traffic controllers were laid off each day last week until Congress reversed the action as flight delays mounted.

As he has in the past, the president called on Congress to reach an agreement that could cut the country's burgeoning national debt, while at the same time investing in programs to fix the nation's infrastructure and promote education and research. But the White House and Republicans differ sharply over what financial policies the government should adopt.


President Obama says the Guantanamo prison should be closed.

He said, "Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe... it hurts us in terms of our international standing. It is a recrutment tool for extremists."

He added, "The notion we are going to keep 100 individuals in perpetuity in no man's land ... is contrary to who we are and contrary to our interests."

When asked about force feeding of hunger strikers at Guantanamo, he said, "I do not want these individuals to die."

Immigration reform

President Obama says he is open to a House of Representatives proposal on immigration reform, but that it must meet the criteria he laid out from the start, including implementing more effective border security, cracking down on employers, making the legal immigration system more effective, and creating a pathway to citizenship for the nation's 11 million illegal immigrants.

Obama said he is impressed by the work done on the Senate bill by the so-called "Gang of Eight" senators from both parties. He said there are elements of it that he would change, but that it does meet all the criteria.

He said he has not yet seen what members of the House are proposing, but that if that bill meets the criteria as well, he and lawmakers should be able to come up with an appropriate compromise.

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