Good evening. I just addressed the nation about the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Over the past two years, what began as a series of peaceful protests against the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad has turned into a brutal civil war in Syria. Over 100,000 people have been killed.
In that time, we have worked with friends and allies to provide humanitarian support for people, to help the moderate opposition within Syria, and to shape a political settlement. But we resisted calls for military action because we cannot resolve someone else's civil war through force.
The situation profoundly changed in the early hours of August 21, when more than 1,000 Syrians — including hundreds of children — were killed by chemical weapons launched by the Assad government.
What happened to those people — those children — is not only a violation of international law — it's also a danger to our security. Here's why:
If we fail to act, the Assad regime will see no reason to stop using chemical weapons. As the ban against these deadly weapons erodes, other tyrants and authoritarian regimes will have no reason to think twice about acquiring poison gases and using them. Over time, our troops could face the prospect of chemical warfare on the battlefield. It could be easier for terrorist organizations to obtain these weapons and use them to attack civilians. If fighting spills beyond Syria's borders, these weapons could threaten our allies in the region.
So after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike. The purpose of this strike would be to deter Assad from using chemical weapons, to degrade his regime's ability to use them, and make clear to the world that we will not tolerate their use.
Though I possess the authority to order these strikes, in the absence of a direct threat to our security, I believe that Congress should consider my decision to act. Our democracy is stronger when the President acts with the support of Congress — and when Americans stand together as one people.
Over the last few days, as this debate unfolds, we've already begun to see signs that the U.S. military action may produce a diplomatic breakthrough. The Russian government has indicated willingness to join with the international community in pushing Assad to give up his chemical weapons and the Assad regime has now admitted that it has these weapons, and even said they'd join the Chemical Weapons Convention, which prohibits their use.
It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps it commitments. But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force.
That's why I've asked the leaders of Congress to postpone a vote to authorize the use of force while we pursue this diplomatic path. I'm sending Secretary of State John Kerry to meet his Russian counterpart on Thursday, and I will continue my own discussions with President Putin. At the same time, we'll work with two of our closest allies — France and the United Kingdom — to put forward a resolution to the U.N. Security Council requiring Assad to give up his chemical weapons, and to ultimately destroy them under international control.
Meanwhile, I've ordered our military to maintain their current posture to keep the pressure on Assad, and to be in a position to respond if diplomacy fails. And tonight, I give thanks again to our military and their families for their incredible strength and sacrifices.
As we continue this debate — in Washington, and across the country — I need your help to make sure that everyone understands the factors at play. Please share this message with others to make sure they know where I stand, and how they can stay up to date on this situation. Anyone can find the latest information about the situation in Syria here: www.whitehouse.gov/issues/foreign-policy/syria, including a video of tonight's address.