September 7, 2013

Obama goes home without a coalition

The president says he will argue for a military strike on Syria in an address Tuesday.

By KATHLEEN HENNESSEY and SERGEI L. LOIKO Tribune Washington Bureau

(Continued from page 1)

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President Barack Obama, speaking at a news conference at the G-20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Friday said he had a "candid and constructive conversation" with Russian President Vladimir Putin, even if they still disagreed on how to respond to the chemical weapons use in Syria.


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Russia's President Vladimir Putin, center foreground, gestures as he walks by U.S. President Barack Obama, front row second right, as he takes his place at a group photo outside of the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. World leaders are discussing Syria's civil war at the summit but look no closer to agreeing on international military intervention to stop it. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

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Although the Senate Foreign Relations Committee quickly approved a resolution this week, the already challenging politics have since become more complicated. Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., who opposes the resolution, was consulting his colleagues on a proposal for a nonmilitary response.

In the House, Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., said the Senate resolution, which aims to shift the momentum in the civil war toward the opposition, "opens up a Pandora's box."

"I think the administration runs an incredible risk, if they try to placate those who want to expand American military intervention in Syria, because they risk losing support of the overwhelming majority of members," he said after meeting with Vice President Joe Biden.

The Obama administration had resisted intervention in the war, but switched course after the alleged chemical weapons attack, which U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded killed more than 1,400 people.

On Friday, Obama compared his bid for action to humanitarian intervention in Kosovo in 1999 and the U.S. failure to stop the genocide in Rwanda in 1994. He cast the international division as the result of war-weary leaders "rationalizing not making tough choices."

The United States alone, he said, shoulders the burden of enforcing international agreements on human rights and chemical warfare.

"There are times where we have to make hard choices if we're going to stand up for the things that we care about. And I believe that this is one of those times," Obama said.

But Obama did not persuade a single ally to endorse a specific action. Immediately after he spoke, the White House released the joint statement from Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Spain and Turkey, as well as the United States.

The statement did not specifically endorse military action, but concluded: "We support efforts undertaken by the United States and other countries to reinforce the prohibition on the use of chemical weapons."

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