Transcript for All Eyes on Obama's 'Red Line' As UK Blames Syria for Chemical Attack
This is a special report from ABC news. This is an ABC news digital special report. The time for half measures may be dwindling in Syria with images spreading of a horrifying. Chemical attack to what is believed to be chemical attack western powers say was a -- president Bashar Asad. Joining us now to discuss a response from Washington ABC news -- senior national correspondent Jim Avalon and from London. With the international view ABC's globe trotting correspondent Jeffrey -- but first up. ABC's Karen Travers with a breakdown of what could be a game changing 24 hours for Syria Karen. Good afternoon President Obama said in this interview with CNN that at the United States does not have to intervene immediately. In every world crisis that -- he also said that the situation in Syria will require America's attention. President Obama is red line on Syria may be shifting. In his first comment on the possible chemical weapons attack outside -- -- -- he was cautious were still gathering information about this particular bad but it. His very troublesome disturbing images and video out of Syria show hundreds of victims including women and children. State Department said yesterday there could be 1018100. Victims but Syrian president decides regime denies launching any chemical attack. Now the pressure is increasing on the Obama administration to take action last year the president drew what he called a red line. He's the use of chemical weapons in Syria would change his calculus. But in an interview yesterday with CNN's new day the president said the US doesn't have to intervene on every world prices more immediately we have to think through strategically what's going to be an hour long term national interest. The US and Russia have been at odds over Syria the Russians are one of the -- strongest international allies. Today the Foreign Ministry there said the evidence of the chemical weapons attack was steady east to frame the regime. But the British foreign secretary said today that's highly unlikely. We do -- that this is chemical attack by they -- regime. -- -- -- -- UN inspectors are on the ground in Syria and today President Obama said that the government there needs to allow an investigation of the alleged -- site. But -- he said he does not expect they'll cooperate. All right Karen -- thank you so much for that report and we're joined now from Washington by ABC's. Jim -- and good afternoon -- and we've -- some of the president's comments from that interview this morning so what is going on behind the scenes at the White House today. Well the White House in fact there was a national security team meeting -- there was actually yesterday afternoon. Have lasted about three and a half hours certainly they're going over options at the White House to find out what kind of response -- could be. But I think Karen was was very wise -- the way she did -- piece there about how. About how the president while doing a bit of Saber rattling about saying that this was of grave concern in a big event. The president made clear. That his administration is not anxious to go into Syria militarily he pointed out we're already in a war in Afghanistan. He's being very cautious he says that the the people the united -- pay him as president. To think this through and make sure it's the right strategy he also said. And -- income people who believe that the United States can somehow. Clear up this whole mess of sectarian violence and civil war in Syria the United States can really have an effect there may be overstating what the United States can do. So he's gonna be very careful in pulling any kind of trigger. Does he have options yes he does. In the Mediterranean. We have the warships which can launch Tom -- -- tomahawk cruise missiles into Syria quite easily we have. Aircraft that can launch from Turkey from. Cutter from other places in the mideast and -- from Europe so there are there are options. For the United States to do. But the president has made clear that while those options he's looking at those options and if indeed this is proven to be. A an attack of using chemical weapons. That there will be some consequences so we really have to kind of be patient here. Watch what the president finds out watch how much of the coalition he can build you heard Britain -- that piece say that this is a chemical attack. The so to get Britain on -- -- to get some of the other allies in your side of the UN perhaps sanctions some kind of action. That's what you have to look for what what kind of consensus consensus there is I don't see you think you're gonna see the United States attacking on its own. While that president did seem hesitant to. Certainly for begin any sort of prolonged attack is -- pressure within the administration and within congress to do more. There's always. Pressure from the hill to to do more -- Senator McCain believes are moving too slowly senator Graham believes -- moving too slowly. The president reacted to that in his interview with CNN he said that there are people who want us to jump in right away but he said he believes that we've seen the results of that. In Iraq and Afghan Afghanistan he was referring to -- jumped -- to things two quickly and that he's gonna be careful about about jumping into Syria. Militarily. Because of the quagmire that's there I mean the people who -- who in the opposition. It's clear the world believes that the aside his is a terrible leader and should go. But nobody's really identified. Anybody weakened trust the United States can trust in Syria even on the opposition so it's and it's a very difficult situation. You know you mention the president's remarks on the issue of for example John McCain's call for more aggressive policy in Syria we actually have. A SoundBite from the -- let's listen and. The situation is serious very difficult. And the notion that the US can somehow. Solve. What does a sectarian. Complex problem inside of Syria and sometimes is overstated. All right Jim let's talk about. The UN team that is on the ground right now set to investigate the previous. Claims of the use of chemical weapons in Syria -- -- word that they may be more successful and in terms of getting to the area that was. Most recently believed to be attacked. -- -- know if they say that they've been in contact with Syrian government to try to do that. We don't know what the responses from the Syrian government so far the president to -- that he doesn't believe Syria is going to allow the senate UN team. Which was there to investigate chemical weapons being -- in a smaller scale and a different area. -- moved to this other area where this larger attack. Allegedly happened. So where some where between 2018100. People -- may have been killed with the use of chemical weapons to so far no answer from Syria. Interesting though however that Russia as Karen -- put it out and her inner peace today. Russia has in fact an ally Syria and an important ally one of the few remaining allies of Syria. And the one who perhaps is most able to supply them with weapons. Told Syria today that they expect them and want them to cooperate with the UN mission. So what to see what happens there and if they don't cooperate without UN mission. That's gonna be the trigger that the president will try to use that the UN to get a sanctioned the use some kind of force. So that is that we should be watching that carefully. All right you know -- in speaking about. How long it's taken the UN just to get on the ground investigative previous claim that the use of chemical weapons in April this certainly. Does take a long time to confirm and that. That's part of what perhaps the president is waiting for as well. Yes he's waiting for that kind of confirmation what they're doing now what with what he's getting now see is his. People who are experts who are reacting to what they're seeing on the Internet the effects that that this. Alleged chemical weapon had on the people who -- what -- what they're doing how they're shaking with their symptoms are. They're looking at that they're saying that looks like serin gas but nobody is on the ground nobody's been able to take samples for this area. To confirm that and that's what they have to do we have to be there to actually take samples. To get something from the ground to see whether or not it can it really is there are traces of the chemical -- they did that. We don't know how already in the first instance the United States -- -- got. Some soil soil samples which tested positive. Four chemical weapons in the first instance that wasn't from the UNT that was from some other team could have been from. Could have been from CIA could have been from rebel sources. We don't know where it came from -- know that the units and said they had positive. Samples there so they're trying to get some samples from this new location trying to get the UN team to move there but it hasn't happened yet. -- ABC's senior national correspondent Jim -- thank you for joining us. And now we're heading to London where ABC's Jeffrey Kaufmann has been monitoring the international response. So what is -- international response I know we have a particularly strong statement from Britain's foreign minister at this point. Oh that's right in fact responses we we can report -- you responses from a a whole range of countries. I I think in a way you -- you can summarize it though with this morning's headline and and Le -- that the French newspaper. Whitman talking about all of the huffing and puffing that's going on we must do something it. And France is in fact leading the way in a call for for an intervention although the French government doesn't want and isn't really equipped to do this on its own -- Headline this morning. Indignation. Is not. Enough and that really is the sense here you know there there is as you -- Britain's foreign secretary joining the chorus of indignation saying that this is appalling. This is unacceptable. Syria has to take take ownership of this the Syrian governments and and -- be held accountable. But as as Jim has just explain in great detail. The world really doesn't know quite how to do that right now what we need to see is this is that. Absolute certain confirmation that this was. A chemical weapon everything suggests that was. People obviously -- -- be very careful before they jump to conclusions though one would -- -- in making such a serious claim. Those UN inspectors were 1520 minutes away from the site when it happened this is the incredible irony. The tragic irony of what what we're talking about on Wednesday -- finally after months of negotiation have been allowed into Damascus they were in a hotel just a few miles away. And yet you don't and a place like that to say driver take me over there we wanted to use and inspecting. They have handlers they have military guys who -- tell them where they can go lie under this very repressive regime. Now. One of the big obstacles to getting them to that site seems to have moved aside today Russia was standing in the way Russia and China. Two big allies of the Asad regime Russia's foreign minister spoke with John Kerry secretary of state. Today and Russia said that he they too agree that this needs to be independently verified but they they had been accusing the Syrian opposition. Being behind these attacks this this the chemical weapons attack. -- -- they now say. The problem is a Syrian opposition its is in the way out just moments ago the Syrian opposition spoken Istanbul Turkey and said. We will insure the safety of any UN inspectors who want to get to this site. So gradually we're seeing some movement over the last 24 hours. -- opening the door to a possible inspection but there's one key element missing here. Complete silence from the Syrian government they have said nothing they've -- all acknowledge nothing they have not indicated that they are prepared to -- changed the agenda of the UN team that is there and so. We wait and we wait to see whether we can get confirmation that this was a chemical weapons attack and we wait to see how. The world will respond to all the indignation that is mounting. Does a Russian government's the I don't see change in stance but that their commentary going from blaming the rebels to now asking the government cooperate with inspectors. Is -- an important shift is -- significant shift. Yeah I don't get I think it appears to be but you know. -- I if you look at that the images and and I am not sure I would encourage people do -- -- there there there at her over a hundred videos now on YouTube and other. Sites. There really disturbing -- mean you can't ignore this this is just -- chilling what what's happened here. This this is very much like the kind of attack that Saddam Hussein. Orchestrated in Iraq a number of years ago it. Do you -- babies -- series small children you see women. And there is no blood there are no wounds. They are gasping for air of their looking blankly into -- -- into. The distances or they are dead and the footage is so disturbing and and the numbers seem to be so high. That it's very difficult to have to pretend that this is not a not a -- really serious serious incident. Yet the main message coming from President Obama this morning. Is -- is one of caution let's listen in some. What I think the American people also expect me to do as president. Is to think through. What we do. From the perspective what is in our long term national interest -- sometimes. What we've seen is. -- folks will. Call for immediate action. Jump in and this stuff. That does not turn out well. Gets us mired in very difficult situations. Can result in us being drawn -- to. Very expensive. Difficult costly interventions. That actually breed more resentment in the region. So Jeffrey even if the president gets an international coalition and there is an agreement to strike -- to act boldly. There's -- president points out that could be even more problematic in the end -- You know -- -- and reviewing in my mind that the potential options that that. President Obama and and NATO have. There aren't a lot and I'm I think everyone agrees that there's just no way we're gonna see so called boots on the ground democracy in Iraq style invasion -- -- Afghanistan here. There's just no appetite for -- there's -- And frankly given that the outcomes in Iraq and Afghanistan there's no -- there's not a strong argument for. If you look at Libya -- revolution that I covered in 2011 extensively there it was just an air air support for the rebels. I was a smaller country a much much weaker army. It was much easier to pinpoint the installations and to -- Neutralize the Libyan air force and and air defenses very quickly. Syria is much better armed and it still has Russia and China supplying arms to -- the idea of -- NATO air. A campaign in the style of what we saw -- Libyan 2011 it just isn't practical that leaves some form of surgical strikes. Just against two and against what end to end to what and it's not clear unless they plan to actually bomb the Presidential Palace. It seems to me it's going to be some sort of token gesture and I guess they they can certainly try to neutralize. So some. Key installations but the fact is that series a big country it's very well equipped very well armed. And a couple of surgical strikes. Aren't going to change that that the nature of this conflict which is now and a serious civil war and Anis Jim -- I think -- pointed out. It's not like this is a good guys bad guys conflict and everyone agrees. That that the president Assad has to -- that he is. An incredibly bad influence at bad leader full force Syria for its people but that being said the rebels themselves -- a very mixed group and and they too. Have serious issues of human rights accountability to talk about and they are mixed between secular and religious. And fundamentalist islamists. So it's not clear who exactly you'd be supported. And Jim before we go we should mention refugee problem Manning right now you have -- poring over the border. The Kurdistan border awesome to Turkey and this is another issue for the -- -- Where UNICEF said today to tie that we have seen the one million. Syrian child. Become a refugee. It's a staggering number about half the refugees two million refugees who have crossed into neighboring countries about half of them are children. And get this and the number three quarters of a million of those children are under the age of eleven one of the -- UNICEF spokesman said. We are talking about the well being. And the future of a generation. -- it's a powerful statement -- a staggering number a million children who are now refugees from the Syrian civil war. Now that -- the many many disturbing images coming out of Syria. Jeffrey -- in London thank you for joining us and -- our thanks to Jim Koppel in Washington and Karen Travers as well. You've been watching an ABC news digital special report on -- Hernandez in New York thank you for joining us. This has been a special group. Report from me.
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