President Obama-Syria: President tells CNN that this week's attack was a "big event of grave concern."

Obama on Syria Gas Attack: "Big Event of Grave Concern"

Obama on Syria Gas Attack: "Big Event of Grave Concern"

The Slatest
Your News Companion
Aug. 23 2013 11:13 AM

Obama Says Idea That U.S. Can End Syrian Civil War By Itself Is "Overstated"

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President Barack Obama speaks on education at University of Buffalo on August 22, 2013 in Buffalo

Photo by Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images

As the world awaits independent confirmation of what looked an awfully lot like the worst chemical-weapons attack since Saddam Hussein gassed an Iraqi town in 1988, President Obama is facing increasing pressure to take some sort of concrete action to address the Syrian civil war that continues to move from bad to worse to still worse. But speaking in an interview with CNN that aired this morning, the president made it clear that while the new allegations are forcing his hand somewhat, he's not about to make a snap decision.

Obama called this week's suspected gas attack a "big event of grave concern," one that "is something that is going to require America's attention"—but was noticeably silent when it comes to what form that "attention" will take, and when it will take it. Notably, he called the idea that the United States can bring an end to the conflict on its own "overstated."

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"If the U.S. goes in and attacks another country without a U.N. mandate and without clear evidence that can be presented, then there are questions in terms of whether international law supports it, do we have the coalition to make it work," Obama said in the interview on CNN's New Day. "Those are considerations that we have to take into account."

Of course, such a mandate appears to be a long shot given Russia's support of the Assad regime, which would appear to leave the international stalemate in largely the same place it was before this week's attack that killed hundreds of people. (Although, in a potential sign of a breakthrough, Moscow on Friday called on the Syrian government and its opposition to allow U.N. inspectors to investigate exactly what happened in the Damascus suburbs this week.)

The allegations of the massive gas attack came almost one year to the day from when Obama first issued his "red line" warning about chemical weapon use in Syria. This past June, the administration announced that it finally had what it considered conclusive evidence that Assad's forces had used such weapons against the opposition. That prompted plans to begin arming rebel groups and debate over setting up a no-fly zone over part of the country—although the U.S. government has yet to do either.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City.