Obama: Decision not to strike Syria does not mean Iran is off the hook
U.S. Secretary of State says in Jerusalem that removal of Syrian chemical weapons will set standard for Islamic Republic.
U.S. President Barack Obama said on Sunday that his administration's approach to Syria's chemical weapons should show Iran that there's the potential for a diplomatic solutions to an arms standoffs.
He added, however, that Iran shouldn't assume that his preference for diplomacy means the U.S. won't strike Tehran. "My suspicion is that the Iranians recognize they shouldn’t draw a lesson that we haven’t struck [Syria] to think we won’t strike Iran," he said.
Obama told ABC's "This Week" that Iranians understand that their pursuit of a nuclear weapon is "a far larger issue for us" than the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Also on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said that destroying Syria's chemical weapons arsenal sets a standard on Iran, and that the world must not allow "hollow words" to dominate international affairs.
Speaking in Jerusalem after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kerry said that the U.S-Russian agreement on Syria has the full ability to strip the regime of its chemical weapons.
"We are not just standing up for red line that world drew 100 years ago," Kerry said. "Our focus must remain ending the violence and the creation of more refugees – tearing not only Syria but the region. There is no military solution to this conflict. We don’t' want the implosion of the state of Syria."
Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu said that Israel hoped a U.S.-Russian deal to remove Syria's chemical weapons would result in the "complete destruction" of the arsenal, and urged the international community to apply the same efforts to destroying Iran's nuclear program.
Syria's Minister for National Reconciliation said on Sunday that the chemical weapons agreement between Russia and the United States was a "victory" for Damascus, won by its Russian allies, and had taken away the pretext for war.
Russia and the U.S. remain divided over the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Obama, speaking in a television interview taped before Saturday's announcement of the chemical weapons deal, said Russian President Vladimir Putin is "protecting" Assad and doesn't share American "values" in Syria. "He has a different attitude about the Assad regime," Obama told ABC.
"But what I've also said to him directly is that we both have an interest in preventing chaos, we both have an interest in preventing terrorism. The situation in Syria right now is untenable. As long as Mr. Assad's in power, there is going be some sort of conflict there."
Obama's interview was taped Friday and aired Sunday.
Despite Obama's calls for Assad to leave power, Obama reiterated that he would not use military force to achieve that objective. He said securing Syria's chemical weapons is his "primary concern."
In setting out one of the most ambitious arms-control efforts in history, the U.S.¬ and Russia reached an agreement to inventory Syria's chemical weapons program and seize all its components. The agreement includes imposing penalties if the Assad government fails to comply.
In a written statement following the agreement, Obama said the world expects Syria to live up to its public commitments to hand over its chemical weapons stockpile. Warning that the U.S. was prepared to act if Syria falls short, he also cautioned that more work remains even after the progress the deal represents.
The U.S. and others blame Assad's government for an Aug. 21 gas attack in the suburbs of Damascus, the Syrian capital. Assad denies the charge, blaming Syrian rebels.
More than 1,400 people died, according to U.S. estimates, the latest victims of Syria's 2-year-old civil war.
The deal to destroy Syria's chemical weapons also offers the potential for reviving international peace talks to end a civil war that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and sent 2 million refugees fleeing for safety, and now threatens the stability of the entire Mideast.
In Congress, Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who are among Obama's sharpest foreign policy critics and support greater U.S. assistance for Syria's rebels, said the agreement will embolden enemies such as Iran.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California credited the president's "steadfast leadership" for "making significant progress in our efforts to prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction."
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