POSTED: Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 10:16am
UPDATED: Friday, September 6, 2013 - 5:08pm
CNN — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the red line he outlined last year regarding Syria's use of chemical weapons came from international treaties and past congressional action, and now it is time for the international community to make good on its opposition to the banned armaments.
"I didn't set a red line. The world set a red line," Obama told reporters on the first day of a four-day trip to Sweden and Russia to attend a G-20 summit in St. Petersburg.
In particular, Obama said the global red line came when governments representing 98% of the world's population "passed a treaty forbidding (chemical weapons) use, even when countries are engaged in war."
The president spoke as a Senate committee prepared to consider a resolution authorizing a limited military strike on Syria in response to what the administration calls a major chemical weapons attack on August 21 that killed hundreds of people in suburban Damascus.
A year ago, Obama warned Syria that his position on the civil war there would change if President Bashar al-Assad's regime used its stockpiles of chemical weapons.
"A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized," Obama said then. "That would change my calculus. That would change my equation."
Conservative critics have said Obama painted himself into a corner with that statement and now must respond to save face, even if this is not an imminent national security matter for the United States.
The administration and top congressional leaders pushed back against that criticism Tuesday during debate on Capitol Hill. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the chamber's No. 2 Republican, said any president would have drawn that red line based on international norms.
Obama said Wednesday that "my credibility is not on the line -- the international community's credibility is on the line."
He framed the question for the United Nations and the global community at large as: "Are we going to try to find a reason not to act? And if that's the case, then I think the (world) community should admit it."
"I respect the U.N. process," he told a joint news conference in Stockholm with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, who opposes military intervention without U.N. approval.
"We agree that the international community cannot be silent," Obama said, adding that a team of U.N. investigators has done "heroic work."
However, the U.N. team's mandate was only to determine if chemical weapons had been used, Obama said, repeating that U.S. intelligence has confirmed that beyond any reasonable doubt, and has further confirmed that al-Assad's regime "was the source."
Syrian allies Russia and China are likely to block any U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing military intervention in Syria.
Later Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee is scheduled to consider a revised resolution to set a 60-day deadline for use of force in Syria, with an option for an additional 30 days.
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By Tom Cohen