Obama and Assad: War of Words

Diane Sawyer interviews President Obama as his decision on striking Syria appears to be put on hold.
5:34 | 09/10/13

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Transcript for Obama and Assad: War of Words
Tonight the verbal war between president obama and syria's president reached a fever pitch. Assad in his first interview with an american journalist since the incident denied he was responsible and suggested there would be repu prepercussions if the americans take action. In washington, a president in the political fight of his life. We will be stronger if we take action together as one nation. In damascus, another president in the fight of his life. He did not present any evidence. They didn't present anything. Nearly three weeks, 20 days after the chemical attack in syria, a war of words for the hearts and minds of the world. The assad regime inhuman use of chemical weapons against men women and children. Unleashed terror on a massive scale. If we don't stand up to it, we will face it more and they will think they can intimidate anyone. Straight to the breaking news. If assad yields control of his chemical weapons to international authority, are we back from the brink? Is military strike on pause? Absolutely, if in fact that happens. I don't think that we would have gotten to this point unless we had maintained a credible possibility of a military strike, and I don't think now is the time for us to let up on that. So, what I have said specifically is I want to make sure that that norm against use of chemical weapons is maintained. If we can do that without a military strike, that is overwhelmingly my preference and now the key is can we see with a sense of urgency. Meaning how long does he have to show this is real? A week? A month? This is one of those situations where the stakes are high, but they are long term. They're not immediate or imminent. But they are serious. I don't anticipate that you would see a succession of votes this week or any time in the immediate future. And so I think there will be time during the course of the debates here in the united states for the international community, the russians and syrians to see if there is a way to resolve it. But I want to be sure we don't take the pressure off. It is said that zefrg possible in terms of retaliation. You should expect everything. You should expect everything. Not necessarily through the government. It's not only the government is not the only player in this region. You have different parties and factions. You have different identities. You have everything now. So you havepect that. Tell me what you mean by expect anything? Expect every action. Including chemical warfare? That depends on if the rebels or terrorists in this region or any other group have it, it could happen. I'm not a fortune teller to tell you what is going to happen. You cannot expect for anyone to tell you what is going to happen. It's an area where everything is on the brink of explosion. You have to expect everything. Do you feel at this moment looking at everything that's possible that the american people should brace for retaliation? Look, we take all precautions, but understand, assad's capabilities are not significant compared to ours. They are significant compared to an opposition that are not professional fighters. They have allies, iran, hezbollah. They are significant to 400 children that they gassed but not to us. Iran is not going to war with the united states over the use of weapons that they themselves object to. But I think it is important for us to understand that if, in fact, the choice is between a world in which dictators and other countries start believing it's acceptable to use chemical weapons on civilians and children that will make it more dangerous for us. That means troops will all start having to wear gas masks because they don't know whether or not chemical weapons would be used. If we can resolve this without military conflict, that is much preferred. I would much rather be talking about creating more jobs and focus on all the things that i really think the american people care deeply about but my responsibility as commander in chief is to make sure I think about our long term national security interests and the use of chemical weapons threatens that in a significant way. You still want congress to vote authorization and do you still reserve the right to strike if they say no? With respect to me order a strike in the face of congressional opposition, this is something I have said. The reason I took this to congress in the first place. I think it's important for me to weigh consensus in this country. Strikes may be less effective if I don't have congressional

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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