UNITED NATIONS -- President Obama defended the U.S. threat to strike Syria before the United Nations on Tuesday and urged world leaders to demonstrate that the assembly “means what it says” when it condemns the use of chemical weapons.
The Syrian regime must verify that it is turning over its stockpiles of chemical weapons to international monitors, Obama said, or face consequences for failing to do so.
“If we cannot agree even on this, then it will show that the United Nations is incapable of enforcing the most basic of international laws,” Obama said. “On the other hand, if we succeed, it will send a powerful message that the use of chemical weapons has no place in the 21st century and that this body means what it says.”
Much of Obama’s early address to the gathering was devoted to the Syrian crisis and laid the basis for his other calls to action, in opposition to the Iranian nuclear program and in support of Palestinian statehood through direct negotiations with Israel.
He said he is encouraged by the apparent willingness of the new Iranian president to discuss dismantling the nuclear program but warned that "conciliatory words will have to be matched by actions that are transparent and verifiable." Friends of Israel must profess a belief that the country's security as a Jewish and democratic state "depends on the realization of a Palestinian state," he said.
But Obama’s message to world leaders this week is focused on the suffering in Syria as a warning to the international community to rally around shared values and present a united front.
It comes as some leaders question the U.S. willingness to take unilateral action against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad if the U.N. Security Council does not signed off on the use of force.
In his morning address, and in other sessions over his two days in New York, Obama tried to make the case that the U.S. threat is what pushed Assad and his Russian allies toward the current diplomatic process -- a responsibility that he asserts ought to rest also with the U.N.
Assad has now agreed to work with international monitors to impound or destroy his stockpiles of chemical weapons.
“Without a credible military threat, the Security Council had demonstrated no inclination to act at all,” Obama told the General Assembly.
Assad's government maintains that an August chemical attack on Damascus suburbs were a “provocation” by rebels in order to draw international action.
If the international community entertains the idea that Assad was not responsible, Obama warned, it will be a threat “to the legitimacy of this institution.”