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Obama: 'If we fail to act,' Assad will continue to use chemical weapons

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President Barack Obama speaks on Syria from the East Room of the White House. (Source: CNN) President Barack Obama speaks on Syria from the East Room of the White House. (Source: CNN)

(RNN) – Arguing that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad violated basic international rules regarding chemical weapons "along with our common sense of humanity," President Barack Obama made his case for a possible targeted strike aimed at taking out Assad's chemical weapons Tuesday, while also leaving the door open for diplomacy.

"It's not only a violation of international law. It's also a danger to our security. ... If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons," Obama argued from the White House's East Room in a speech broadcast across several major networks. 

"Other tyrants will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gas and using them. Over time, our troops would again face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield, and it could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons."

Obama said the military would "maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad" while diplomatic efforts play out and to respond if they failed. He ruled out the possibility of American troops on the ground in Syria.

"We will work together ... to put forward a resolution at the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons and to ultimately destroy them under international control," Obama said.

Obama asked the House and Senate to pause votes on military action while diplomacy efforts were underway.

Countering claims that a targeted strike would be a soft approach and retaliation would be imminent, Obama insisted, "The United States military doesn't do pin pricks." 

"The Assad regime does not have the ability to seriously threaten our military. ... Any other retaliation they might seek is in line with threats that we face every day."

Obama acknowledged Americans apprehensiveness to enter another conflict after years of war but said dictators count on the world to "look the other way until these horrifying pictures fade from memory."

He called members of Congress to "ask what kind of world will we live in if the United States of America sees a dictator brazenly violate international law with poison gas, and we choose to look the other way?"

The president faces an uphill battle when to comes to garnering support for a strike. Polls show he faces a skeptical and war-weary American public. A Gallup poll released Monday showed that 51 percent oppose military action in Syria, with 36 percent in favor of action. Other polls show opposition upwards of 68 percent.

In a poll conducted after the speech by CNN and ORC International, 61 percent of respondents view Obama's Syria policy speech favorably. However, 50 percent believe he has not made a clear case for the U.S. taking military action against Syria.

When asked does it benefit the national interests of the U.S. to involve itself in Syria's current conflict, 60 percent said it is not of national interest, a five percent decrease from the days prior to the speech.

The president's speech comes within 48 hours of diplomatic developments, shifting the notion of possible military action against Syria.

According to a White House official, Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Francios Hollande all agreed to discuss Russia's proposal to take over Syria's chemical weapons collections. Talks on any agreement began on Monday.

On Tuesday, Obama met with Congress, asking them to delay any votes on possible military action. According to Reuters, Obama was with Senate Democrats for more than an hour, telling them to delay the vote on action until a compromise was made between Syria and its ally Russia.

Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday to discuss a "possible deal on Syria's chemical weapons," according to the Associated Press.

Kerry also spoke in front of the Senate Armed Forces Committee on Tuesday, reiterating that the Obama administration has no plans send troops, but wants Congress to act if needed.

"The president believes we need to keep this threat, this reality, absolutely on the table," said Kerry. "He wants the Congress to act, but I think that the Senate has made a decision to hold off to see if there are any legs in this Russian proposal. So we want you to act."

The deal would be reached by a U.N. Security Council resolution that would make Syria either release its chemical weapons "or face consequences."

Copyright 2013 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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