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Obama Leaves G-20 Summit Without Strong Support for Military Strike in Syria

September 6, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
At the G-20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, 10 nations as well as the United States signed a statement accusing Syria of using deadly chemical weapons against civilians, but stopped short of urging a military response. Jeffrey Brown reports on the "heavy lift" President Barack Obama faces finding support for a Syria strike.

JEFFREY BROWN: The world’s 20 leading economic powers wound up their summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, today deeply divided over how to punish Syria for using chemical weapons. It was a setback to President Obama’s campaign for military strikes, but he played up what support there was, just the same.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I have been encouraged by discussions with my fellow leaders this week. There is a growing recognition that the world cannot stand idly by.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president came away from the summit saying there had been a full airing of views on Syria and he insisted most of the G-20 nations agree on a central point.

BARACK OBAMA: Here in Saint Petersburg, leaders from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East have come together to say that the international norm 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.

JEFFREY BROWN: In all, 10 nations plus the U.S. signed a joint statement accusing Syria of attacking civilians with chemical weapons last month. But they notably stopped short of directly urging military action as punishment.

Russia remained firmly opposed to any strike. President Obama did meet today with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but failed to make any headway.

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BARACK OBAMA: Listen, I don’t expect us to agree on this issue of chemical weapons use, although it is possible that after the U.N. inspectors’ report, it may be more difficult for Mr. Putin to maintain his current position about the evidence.

JEFFREY BROWN: At his own news conference, Putin argued it’s not only Russia that opposes military intervention in Syria.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia (through interpreter): Who is condemning and opposing that way of action? Russian Federation, India, China, Indonesia, Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, Italy, and the secretary-general of the United Nations also voiced his protest against the military intervention.

JEFFREY BROWN: President Obama also acknowledged today that he faces a — quote — “heavy lift” in getting the U.S. Congress to go along.

BARACK OBAMA: it’s conceivable that at the end of the day I don’t persuade a majority of the American people that it’s the right thing to do.

And then each member of Congress is going to have to decide, if I think it’s the right thing to do for America’s national security.

JEFFREY BROWN: The president said he plans to address the nation Tuesday night to make his case. He wouldn’t say whether he would still order an attack against Syria if Congress rejects the use of force.

BARACK OBAMA: I think it would be a mistake for me to jump the gun and speculate because right now I’m working to get as much support as possible out of Congress.

But I will repeat something that I said in Sweden when I was asked a similar question. I did not put this before Congress, you know, just as a political ploy or as symbolism.

JEFFREY BROWN: In Washington today, in a session that lasted five minutes, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid formally began the process of bringing the issue to a vote next week.

Meanwhile, security was tightened at U.S. diplomatic posts in Lebanon and Turkey. And the State Department ordered nonessential personnel at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut to leave the country amid rising security concerns in the region.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran has directed Shiite militants in Iraq to attack the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad if there’s a military strike on Syria. And Russia announced it is sending more warships into the Eastern Mediterranean. One was said to be carrying a — quote — “special cargo.” The statement gave no details, but insisted Russia’s beefed-up naval presence is meant to ensure security.